By Hannah E. Jones

Decades ago, the City of East Point had two public pools — known as the Spring Avenue and the Randall Street pools — where residents would go for a dip, soak up the sun and spend time with each other. Today, the city doesn’t have any.

Hannah Palmer stands in front of a sign that is part of her installation.
Hannah Palmer at the Spring Street site, right outside the East Point Historical Society and Museum. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones.)

East Point resident Hannah Palmer wants to bring this story to light. Through a combination of public art and history, a new installation entitled “Ghost Pools” tells the tale of these two pools — how they became a battleground over integration and were eventually abandoned in the early ‘80s. As Palmer puts it, “Racism drained the pools.”

Palmer is a local author with a focus on environmental justice, and she also serves as coordinator for Finding the Flint, an effort to rediscover and restore the Flint River headwaters near the Atlanta Airport. Her most recent work is presented by Flux Projects, an organization that commissions public art around the Atlanta area and is part of its overarching FLOW series.

A parking lot that is partially painted blue to signify the place where the former pool sat.
The former Randall Street pool is now an overflow parking lot for the John D. Milner Athletic Complex. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones.)

During segregation, East Point’s Spring Avenue was restricted to white residents and Randall Street was in the Black neighborhood. At both sites, Palmer created a pseudo-pool that marks where the real one once stood and even includes a diving board. To help recreate the energy that was once there, Palmer projects an audio recording of pools she’s visited, which includes the sounds of splashing, chatter and children’s laughter.

Palmer’s installations are true-to-size, having used historical documents as reference. Unsurprising but still jarring, the Randall Street pool is roughly one-third the size of the one at Spring Avenue.

Each location also features an installation depicting the timeline of segregation and integration, both locally and nationally, all through the lens of public aquatic spaces. It also includes photos of residents using the pools, provided by the East Point Historical Society and other groups.

People swimming in a crowded pool.A woman on a diving board.
East Point’s two pools. (Photos courtesy of the East Point Historical Society.)

Palmer realized that the city was missing a public pool once her kids were old enough to learn to swim. From there, she began to unearth information about the pools that once were but was unable to find one cohesive story about what happened to them.

“The more research I did, the more I understood that they were actively abandoned and defunded after integration so that by the late ‘70s, both the pools of East Point were in such bad shape that the city did have to destroy them. Voters refused to approve a referendum for their repairs,” Palmer said.

This situation wasn’t unique, Palmer explained, pointing to Grant Park’s Lake Abana which was turned into a parking lot for Zoo Atlanta in the ‘60s to avoid integration. The East Point pools met a similar fate. Formerly places of recreation and leisure, the old pools are now a lawn beside the East Point Historical Society and an overflow parking lot for the John D. Milner Athletic Complex.

While working on this project, Palmer has seen a true appetite for a local, public pool in East Point. Some residents have even excitedly asked if a new one is being built. Palmer would also like to see a public pool within the city, describing them as a place where visitors can be uninhibited in a way vastly different from other communal spaces.

“An outdoor neighborhood swimming pool is a really unique place,” Palmer said. “It’s a place where people feel comfortable wearing almost nothing; It’s a place where neighbors sit around and chat, you might see somebody taking a nap, you might see little children in their own little world, teenagers flirting. Everyone is seeking leisure, relief and relaxation, and the kids are seeking fun — You can’t say that about almost any other public space.”

Ghost Pools is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, following the same schedule as a typical swimming pool. The exhibit is free and open to the public, and there will be several community events hosted throughout the summer. For further details about the project and the upcoming events, click here.

For a look at the opening day event, click through the slideshow below. Photos by Kelly Jordan.

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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