FORT LAUDERDALE — On Friday, May 11 at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, George Gadson, world-renown sculptor from Fort Lauderdale, unveiled a unique work combining historical imagery from pre-colonial Africa through modern Olympic achievements by swimmers of African descent.
The images appear under the image of a Sankofa Bird, a West African symbol, in the sculpture that will be housed at the ISHOF.
First to be recognized with this honor are members of the Du Sable High School swim team. In the 1930s through the 1950s, Du Sable was a segregated “colored” school that produced some of the finest swimmers in the nation.
Accepting the award for Du Sable was Eddie Kirk, Du Sable’s greatest swimmer and the first documented interscholastic All-American swimmer of African descent.
Milton Gray Campbell, the first African American to win the Olympic decathlon and considered one of the greatest athletes, accepted the gold medallion award.
“The history of swimming is very clear,” says Bruce Wigo, president and CEO of the ISHOF, at diversityinaquatics.org. “From the first encounter between Europeans and sub-Sahara Africans in the 1450s, Africans and their descendants in the Americas were regarded as being superior to the Europeans in swimming skills. Africans were even brought to Italian cities of Venice and Genoa to teach Europeans to swim. It is one of the great untold stories of western history.”
Gadson emphasized the importance of reviving swimming interest in the black community given the disproportionately high drowning rate as well as the recreation, health and employment opportunities that swimming-related activities promote.
He also said he was intrigued by the opportunity to create art that could educate people about swimming history, and help “destroy the myth that blacks can’t swim.”
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Photo: George Gadson