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Cedar Rapids Historic Markers

1940's photo showing people at the pool

Ellis Pool, Cedar Rapids’ first municipal swimming pool, opened in June 1941. Soon after, Coe College student Robert Johnson was denied entrance due to his race. This prompted his aunt, Viola Gibson, a local church leader, to help re-activate the Cedar Rapids branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP led individual and legal efforts to desegregate the pool. At first, blacks could only swim at certain times but, after more complaints, this was discontinued. Such actions were part of a national wave of activism in the 1940s-1960s — known as the Civil Rights movement— that challenged racial discrimination.

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