Red, white, and blue swimming pool lane divider
"Pools have historically been the sites of major feuds over race, income, and access." Olga Khazan for CityLab (Photo by Black 100/Getty Images)

In CityLabOlga Khazan revisits her hometown to ask residents in McKinney, Texas, how they’ve been faring since a 2015 viral video captured Eric Casebolt, a white police officer, using excessive force on Dajerria Becton, a black teenager, at an unauthorized pool party.

Khazan soon finds that tensions in the community are still running high three years later, and that the fallout tracks with how private club pools and homeowners’ associations have historically provided a cover for redlining.

The west has long been referred to as the “new” side, the “good” side, and sometimes the “white” side.

Builders have carved up the west side into sylvan subdivisions with names like Hidden Creek and Eldorado Lakes. The west-side neighborhoods are full of tidy lawns and brick homes. To combat the triple-digit heat that engulfs North Texas for much of the summer, they have swimming pools that are accessible only to residents.

On the east side, some homes are new or remodeled, but others are patched with plywood and corrugated metal. Eighty-six percent of the west side was white in 2009, when the city was forced to settle an affordable-housing lawsuit, compared with 49 percent of the east. The lawsuit claimed that all of the town’s public housing and most of the landlords willing to take Section 8 vouchers were on the east side.

The incident was perhaps especially incendiary because it involved a swimming pool: Pools have historically been the sites of major feuds over race, income, and access. As my colleague Yoni Appelbaum wrote in the wake of the McKinney incident, in the early 20th century, public pools were plentiful—but segregated. As civil-rights activists pushed to desegregate them, many cities privatized the facilities rather than be forced to integrate them. Private and exclusive pools became more common; public ones, less so. “Suburbanites organized private club pools rather than fund public pools because club pools enabled them to control the class and racial composition of swimmers, whereas public pools did not,” the historian Jeff Wiltse noted in his 2007 book, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.

Many of the homes on McKinney’s east side were built before homeowners’ associations began incorporating gated pools into their developments. People in McKinney who don’t belong to homeowners’ associations can use the city’s public swimming pools. There are four, and rather than operating on homeowners’-association dues, they charge a fee for admission. The newest pool, at a facility called the Apex Center, features water slides and costs $10 a person for a day pass. (It’s on the west side.) If Rhodes had wanted to host her party legally, she would have had to rent one of these pools. For up to 200 guests, the cost is $110 to $800 for two hours, depending on the pool.

“Craig Ranch is a multimillion-dollar development,” said Henry Moore, a pastor at Saint Mark Baptist Church, an old black church on the east side, whom I spoke with one Sunday last month before services began. “On the east side, there is no Craig Ranch multimillion-dollar development. So there will be nicer things on the west side than there are on the east side.”

When the socioeconomic divide in a town is so stark, the line between feeling unwanted because you’re not from the neighborhood and feeling unwanted because of your race can start to blur. “Are you saying I’m not supposed to be here because I don’t live here?” Moore continued, speculating on the mind-set of some of the teens that day. “But I was invited.”

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