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African and Black Swimming History Revealed
at the International Aquatic History Symposium & Film Festival May 9 – 12, in Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE – With a focus on swimming in Africa and the history of Black swimmers, the Inaugural International Aquatic History Symposium and Film Festivalwill not only reveal an important but little discussed aspect of western history but it will also destroy many commonly accepted racial stereotypes and myths about swimming.  Presented by the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF), the Symposium will take place at the ISHOF, May 9 – 12, in Fort Lauderdale.

“Today swimming is generally regarded as being a ‘White Sport’, says Bruce Wigo, ISHOF’s President and CEO,  “but prior to the latter half of the nineteenth century very few Whites swam and it was the non-whites, including African, Native American and Polynesian swimmers who were universally recognized as being the finest swimmers and watermen in the world.  This is one of the great untold stories of western history and is important for understanding the role that swimming has played in shaping modern cultural and social and moral attitudes about race, participation in aquatic activities and drowning statistics.”  

Among presentations related to Black History during the symposium will be:
  • “A History of Swimming, Surfing, and Underwater Diving in West Africa” and “African Swimmers in the New World: Enslaved Swimmers and Underwater Divers,” These two presentations, by Professor Kevin Dawson of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas show that Africans had a rich aquatic culture where children were taught to swim before they could walk.  That Africans, both free and enslaved, not only brought their skills as swimmers, as divers, fishermen and boatmen to the Americas and shows how these skills were critical not only to the survival of early colonies, but also to their economic development.
  • “Having the Necessities”: The Remarkable Story of the DuSable High School Swimming Team, 1935-1952,” by noted historian Bob Pruter, Senior editor of social sciences for "New Standard Encyclopedia" in Chicago, Illinois.  Pruter tells the story of DuSable “colored” High School on the south side of Chicago and its powerhouse swim team. The title is intended to refute the infamous quote by Al Campanis that “Blacks didn’t have the necessities” to be swimmers.   
  • “The Golden Age of Swimming:  A story of segregation in America”, by Bruce Wigo, President and CEO of ISHOF.  In this presentation, Wigo tells the remarkable story of how Whites and Blacks literally reversed roles as swimmers and non-swimmers in the 20th Century.  He also offers historically based solutions for increasing interest and participation in aquatic sports by people of color.
  • “Whitewash”, an award winning documentary film presented by filmmaker Ted Woods.  Narrated by musician and surfer, Ben Harper, Whitewash explores race relations and the struggle for civil rights through the history of surfing. 
On Friday, May 11, the symposium will recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions by persons of African descent at a luncheon with the unveiling of a new work of art by sculptor George Gadson.  A graduate of Duke University, Gadson is an award winning artist whose work has been commissioned by the NFL, the White House and numerous corporate and public entities.  The sculpture features the concept of Sankofa.  “It’s a way of reaching back and gathering the best of what our past has to teach us,” says Gadson, “so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.  Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated.”

Gadson hopes that this sculpture and the symposium will help inspire more persons of color will realize that swimming was one of the great African traditions lost to history, and not only learn to swim to prevent the disproportionate number of drownings affecting the Black community but also enjoy all the recreational and employment opportunities that come the ability to swim.

Other topics to be presented include historical topics on Women, Native American and Hawaiian swimmers, lifesaving, masters swimming, synchronized swimming and more.  For more information about the International Aquatic History Symposium and Film Festival, visit www.iahsff.com

About the International Swimming Hall of Fame.  
The International Hall of Fame, established in 1965 and recognized by FINA (the Olympic governing body for the aquatic sports) in 1968, is a not-for-profit educational organization located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Our mission is to promote the benefits and importance of swimming as a key to fitness, good health, quality of life, and the water safety of all adults and children. The International Swimming Hall of Fame museum is open 9 – 5 on weekdays and 9 – 2 on weekends.

About the IAHSFF
Preserving the history of swimming is an important part of ISHOF’s mission because historical events provide not only an inspiration for youth but a historical context for current achievements. History also provides a platform for documentary and feature films, for fictional and non‐fiction literature and art –all of which serve to promote swimming in the media and with the general public. We also recognize that swimming is much more than a sport, having influenced world affairs from wars to social and moral attitudes.  Swimming has a truly unique history that the IAHSFF hopes to share with the world.  
Greg LouganisEraldo

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