African American Studies | African History | African Languages and Societies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | United States History


Since the 1960s, when the United States Center for Disease Control began compiling racial statistics on drowning death rates, it has been painfully obvious that African Americans are far more likely to drown than their white counterparts. While segregation denied black people access to most public swimming pools and racial violence transformed natural waterways into undesirable places for swimming a leisure, perceptions that swimming as an “un-black” or “white” pursuit have marginalized its acceptability within African American communities. “Parting the Waters of Bondage” is an original article based on decades of the author’s historical scholarship. It seeks to reduce the African American drowning death rate by documenting how slaves recreated African aquatic traditions in America, transforming New World waters into places of social, cultural, and spiritual meaning that reflected African valuations. The author has collaborated with swimming advocates across the United States to present this history in a manner that dispels misperceptions that have discouraged black swimming. This article, is written for scholars, as well as lay readers and educators with the objective of providing all with the knowledge to empower African Americans to take pride in and enjoy the aquatic traditions that their ancestors carried to America.