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YMCA ceremony lauds 18 of Orlando’s first black lifeguards, swim instructors

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by Jeff Kunerth
Orlando Sentinel

They are elderly black men and women now, but in their youth they went where many feared to go: the deep end of the pool.

Five of Orlando’s first black lifeguards and swimming instructors were honored Friday, along with 13 others living and dead, by the Central Florida YMCA.

They learned to swim, and then saved others from drowning, in an era when there were no public swimming pools open to blacks.

One of those honored, 70-year-old Fred Lee Mays, said he became determined to learn to swim after almost drowning at age 9 on a family outing.

“Nobody in my family knew how to swim at that time,” Mays said. “I made up my mind I was going to learn to swim.”

Mays learned to swim from his Boy Scout troop leader Gilbert McQueen, who was among the eight black lifeguards and swimming teachers honored posthumously.

Wolf Kahn, the white man who taught Mays to become a lifeguard, also was recognized Friday for his contributions.

Kahn talked about the struggles of teaching blacks to swim in a city that banned them from the public pools and beaches. His first lessons in the 1950s were held at Lake Mann, where the city dredged deep holes in the lake to hastily construct a beach.

Soon after the beach was built, two black children drowned in the lake, Kahn said.

Besides Kahn and Mays, Vivian Jordan Carrington, Bural Evans, Lewis Jacobs and Jackie Bradshaw Mixon also received plaques of appreciation in a luncheon at the South Orlando YMCA Family Center.

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Written by Symphony

May 25, 2008 at 6:44 pm

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