Joan Khabele

Joan Khabele led a swim-in at Barton Springs in the summer of 1960. Photo courtesy Austin Parks Department

Before her high school senior picnic, the principal at Austin High School called Joan Means Khabele into the office to tell her the school’s eight black students wouldn’t be allowed to attend.

Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool were segregated.

That spurred the young activist to take the plunge into the cool, chilly waters of Barton Springs Pool anyway, in an act of civil disobedience. That jump sparked a movement of swim-ins that took place throughout the summer of 1960.

Eventually, the city ordinance was changed. The pool officially integrated in 1962.

barton springs Joan Khabele

A ceremony to honor Joan Khabele, who led the effort to desegregate Barton Springs, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the pool. Pam LeBlanc photo

City to honor Joan Khabele on Saturday

This Saturday, the city of Austin will honor Khabele, who died of leukemia in October, with a proclamation, speakers, and water blessing at the pool. The Moment of Silence & Splash is scheduled for 10 a.m. until noon.

A PBS documentary featuring Khabele talking about her swim will be screened at the pool. Community members are invited to share their personal experiences regarding race at Barton Springs at listening booths that will be set up on the grounds. The interviews will become part of an exhibit at the Beverly S. Sheffield Education Center.

Khabele attended Blackshear Elementary School and Kealing Junior High and was among the third group of students to integrate Austin High School in the late 1950s, according to an article by Michael Barnes in the Austin American Statesman. During her senior year of high school, she was a student activist. She attended the University of Chicago, joined the Peace Corps in Africa, and later earned a master’s degree in African studies and taught at universities in Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Nigeria.

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