Imagine countless hours of combing through thousands of documents in Washington, D.C., libraries and archives. On the final research day, 11 minutes before closing, you stumble upon Box 78. You realize it contains the very primary source material you need for your scholarly pursuit. If you are junior Drew Yingling '15 and Professor Martha Verbrugge, history, you don't take time to celebrate. Instead, you grab your camera and start photographing 150 pages of material, being thankful the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress allows such a practice.
"I'd click and she'd flip," says Yingling, a history and economics major who this summer explored the history of racial segregation at public recreational facilities in the nation's capital. While the civil rights movement showcased many inequities, the movement tended to be recorded in a vacuum, says Yingling. "We hear about Dr. King's March on Washington, the Voting Rights Act and discrimination in education and housing," he says, "yet segregation in recreational facilities was just as contested. It doesn't get the voice it deserves."
"Although it was the supposed center of American democracy, Washington, D.C., was not exempt from the segregation enforced by Jim Crow," says the anthropology minor. "For this reason, the District of Columbia provides an intriguing vantage point."
Thus far, Yingling has found swimming pools to be among the most racially charged recreational sites. "We're trying to understand why swimming pools were so contested," he explains. "Was it for alleged health and medical reasons? Some believed the mixing of bodies would expose people to sickness – blacks would give whites 'black-only' diseases. Clearly there was racial tension." Along with Verbrugge, Yingling hopes to present his findings at the annual D.C. Historical Studies Conference in November.
"There are very little secondary sources on this topic, which makes us do primary source work in the archives," he says. "Our research is the first of its kind. That's what makes it so exciting."