In 1954, iconic African-American entertainer Dorothy Dandridge set a record for highest attendance during her closing night performance at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Just one year earlier, this same hotel drained their pool after Dorothy purposely dipped her toe in it to show her defiance towards a racist policy prohibiting Black people from swimming in the pool at the time.
Although it’s been over six decades since Dorothy’s small but immensely significant gesture, it serves as the perfect example of why swim champion Simone Manuel’s most recent Olympic victory is one we’ll never forget. Activist and journalist George Johnson sent out a tweet drawing a correlation between the two history-making young Black trailblazers shortly after Simone took home the gold on Thursday night and his words were right on time.
Never forget.— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 12, 2016
They drained an entire swimming pool because Dorothy Dandridge stuck her toe in it.
That is why Simone Manuel is important
The strength, courage, perseverance and unapologetic pride displayed by Dorothy Dandridge that day in 1953 is very much present in the extraordinary young Black women of today like Simone Manuel. In addition to earning her a spot in history as the first Black female swimmer to win an individual Olympic medal, Simone’s win also indirectly adds a new angle to the long-running conversation in our communities about a large number of Black people supposedly not knowing how to swim or Black women, specifically, not wanting to swim as not to damage our hair.
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The “Black people can’t swim” narrative is one that has become more of a myth than a fact over the last decade or so as more and more people of color continue to dispel it, but Simone’s Olympic triumph is proof that not only do we swim, we do it well.
Dorothy Dandridge was a fearless woman of color who inspired generations of women after her to fight to make their dreams a reality at all costs and Simone Manuel has now passed on that same spirit of inspiration to a new generation of future champions in the making.