Today it is just a forlorn concrete slab, but once it was filled with laughter and splashing, as the sounds of Sam Cooke, the Temptations and Jackie Wilson drifted overhead.
In the days of segregation and beyond, the Dixie Pool was the heartbeat of Hallandale Beach’s black community.
“Those were some of the best memories of my life,” said Luvenia Brown, 65, who swam freestyle and the medley for the all-black swim team in the late ’50s and early ’60s. “It was like nothing else existed.”
But over the years the pool developed cracks, people stopped going and in 1991, the city shut it for good.
For more than 20 years, residents in the city’s still predominantly black northwest section were told they’d get their pool back and more recreational activities — but it never happened.
“The northwest has been forgotten for so many years,” said lifelong resident Hubert “Hammar” Jackson, one of nearly a dozen members of the original Vikings swim team, an all-black team that competed from 1958 to 1963 against other black swim teams from across the state.
But now the city is finally making good on its promise to give the community its pool back. It recently broke ground on a new pool at a nearby park. When the $5 million renovation at B.F. James Park is done by next summer, the new L-shaped pool will boast three lanes for swimming laps, access for the disabled and scheduled classes for children to learn how to swim.
For some, the new pool will be more than just a place to cool off from the South Florida sun, it’s a chance to bring back a piece of history
“We want our kids to have what we had,” said Jackson, 67, who won several state championships for the swim team.
“It’s so important that they know how to swim,” he said.
In the 1950s, Hallandale, as it was then known, had little development and a lot of mango trees, tomato patches and other crops. There were also a lot of areas that were undeveloped and naturally were dug out, so water collected in them.
Youngsters, who never learned how to swim, would slip into those water-filled cavities and drown. Often, they died as others watched helplessly, afraid that they, too, would drown.
Among the dead: 15-year-old Bill Chapman, 14-year-old Geraldine McCoy, 14-year-old Rudolph Ferguson, 16-year-old Henry Henshaw and 12-year-old Ulyssee Jackson.
“Hammar” Jackson was 6 when his big brother slipped off the bank and into the muddy water. Ulyssee Jackson’s two cousins — who were about the same age — saw him go down, but didn’t know how to swim. They ran to get help, but by the time rescuers arrived, it was too late.
“After that, my mother always told me to stay away from water,” he said.
Taking note of all the drowning deaths: Orestes Blake “O.B.” Johnson, who worked as a parks and recreation director over the three parks in the black community.
At first, he arranged for a bus to shuttle the kids to Fort Lauderdale every Saturday so they could learn to swim. But the demand grew to the point that there were more children who wanted to go than seats on the bus.
There was a city pool in the white neighborhood to the east. But it was the time of segregation, and blacks didn’t cross the train tracks to go there.