Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Barton Springs lifeguard fights to name bathhouse after civil rights activist

Makenzie Long
People swim in Barton Creek on Monday.

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department unanimously voted to name the Barton Springs bathhouse after civil rights activist Joan Means Khabele on Monday. This item will now move to the City Council for a final decision. 

Khabele was told she could not swim in the then-segregated Barton Springs Pool during her senior class picnic in 1960. She responded by jumping in, becoming the first Black person to swim in the pool — sparking a series of weekly “swim-ins,” with dozens of other Black students jumping in with her. 

Two years later, in 1962, Barton Springs Pool officially integrated. 

Former Barton Springs lifeguard Scott Cobb originally nominated the bathhouse on Aug. 28, 2023, a spokesperson for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department said in an email. The department allotted 90 days for comments and sponsorships. A community feedback survey from this period revealed 86% support for the renaming. 

The bathhouse is currently being remodeled, said Cobb, an Austin artist and filmmaker.

He said the bathhouse sits at the entrance of the pool, and a “Joan Means Khabele Bathhouse at Barton Springs Pool” sign would accompany a photo and description of Khabele. 

Khabele was in the third group of Black students to integrate Austin High School, and she encouraged peers to join her in protesting efforts.

This type of courage runs through her blood. According to an Austin-American Statesman article, Khabele’s great-grandfather, James D. Sadler Sr., founded one of the oldest African-American communities in Texas following the abolition of slavery. Her mother, Bertha Sadler Means, helped desegregate an ice skating rink and spent her life teaching. Khabele’s brother, James H. Means Jr., was the first African American student athlete at UT and joined the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor in 2023.

Several of Khabele’s family members spoke at the meeting. Her grandson, Tumelo Khabele-Stevens, said Barton Springs staff did not know Joan Means Khabele’s name. Her granddaughter, Letsie Khabele-Stevens, said she grew up swimming in Barton Springs thanks to her grandmother. 

“I believe it is important to rename the bathhouse in her honor because it is important to acknowledge the contributions of Black Austinites,” Letsie Khabele-Stevens said in the meeting. “To take that a step further, not acknowledging Austin’s history in regards to racism and segregation and those who fought against it contributes to the gentrification and erasure of Black people in Austin.”

Cobb said honoring Khabele in the bathhouse could inspire the young people to continue to fight injustices, since Khabele was a teenager at the time of the protests. 

“I think it’s important to honor her and all her generation of young people at that time,” Cobb said. “They really changed Barton Springs. It wouldn’t be what it is today.”

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