I thought I had fallen into a time warp.
Like a lot of people, I had to pinch myself when I heard that the Valley Club, a predominantly white Montgomery County swim club, had disinvited a group of predominantly black and Latino city children from using its pool.
Especially when I heard Valley Club president John Duesler's color-coded explanation, which he gave to NBC10 Tuesday: "There is a lot of concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion . . . and the atmosphere of the club."
Huh? Something sure smells fishy in Huntingdon Valley.
I couldn't help but think about Dorothy Dandridge's biography, written by Yeadon's own Donald Bogle. He related a story about how the beautiful black singer-actress was once booked for a gig at a segregated Las Vegas hotel.
It was bad enough that Dandridge was forced to use the service entrance. But common knowledge must have held that black people emit some kind of strange and contagious disease when they swim with whites. Because rather than risk Dandridge's taking a dip, hotel officials drained the pool.
Yep. To the very last drop.
But this isn't 1950s Las Vegas. It's 2009 Philly.
That's why what happened a couple of weeks ago to a dedicated, well-meaning camp director and her innocent charges is so hard to take.
All Creative Steps founder Alethea Wright was trying to do was find a place for her kids to swim on Mondays.
With their neighborhood Frankford pool closed because of city budget cuts, the Oxford Circle campers did find a new home at the Klein Branch of the Jewish Community Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
And after the signing the contract and paying the $1,900 fee, Wright thought they had a home at the Valley Club, too, on Mondays.
But once the 65 black and brown kindergartners-through-seventh-graders showed up, it was a different story.
One by one, the campers said, the 20 or so white children who were in the pool began to exit.
A sad experience
"They didn't like the color of my skin. It makes me feel mad. And sad," says camper Jabriel Brown, 12.
"I didn't understand because we're all the same. We're just a different color," 9-year-old camper Kevina Day Morris says.
"The [Valley Club] parents were standing there with their arms crossed," Wright recalled yesterday. "I was hearing comments like, 'They won't be back here.' [Club president John] Duesler told me not to worry, that he would handle it."
Apparently, the way Duesler handled it was to refund Wright's check and tell her that the club membership overthrew his decision "by voting to disinvite us," Wright said.
Well, that's news to Valley Club member Jim Flynn. Standing in front of the club - which was padlocked yesterday - Flynn seethed over the way he said Duesler has handled things.
"To my knowledge, the members were not involved in any of the decisionmaking," says Flynn, 41, a Fox Chase resident who pays a $700 membership for a family of four. "As far as I know, all we recommended was to change the time that [the campers] came, from the afternoons to a nonpeak time. We never recommended to disinvite them."
As for Duesler's "complexion" comment, he said, "I couldn't believe he said that. . . . It was insensitive and inflammatory. Look, I'm not naive enough to think that racism doesn't exist here, but I don't want the good people's names at this club to be smeared."
It would be nice to get Duesler's take on the whole mess. But the club president's still not answering his phone. Neither is the director. And when I called the club secretary, someone answered the phone and hung up on me.
But you can't hang up on the world. In just three days, this story has gone viral. CNN, NBC, and ABC News were on the scene yesterday. And outraged citizens protested outside.
Yet no matter how much outside pressure is applied, the truth is, change must come from the inside out.
Because this isn't about complexion or atmospheric change, but about kids having a good summer.
"I know everybody isn't like that. I've got a lot of white friends and they're not like that," Dymir Baylor said.
"It doesn't matter where we swim. We just want to have fun."