Miller Park's Segregated Beaches
Image courtesy of Bill Kemp
Near the arched stone bridge connecting the lagoon with the larger lake at Miller Park, 1020 South Morris Avenue, Bloomington
The McLean County Museum of History, with support from the city of Bloomington, Bloomington-Normal NAACP, Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal, and The Illinois State Historical Society
In 1908, the park board established racially integrated beaches and bathing facilities at Miller Park. Whites had exclusive use of the lake’s larger beach and cleaner waters, while the “colored” beach was located in the park’s smaller lagoon — “a weed-grown hole of stagnant water,” as one black resident later described it.
This disgraceful arrangement did not go unchallenged. Local blacks already exercised the rights to vote, hold elected office, and attend integrated schools. But the nation’s deteriorating racial climate — as evidenced by the 1908 Springfield and 1919 Chicago race riots — helped silence the controversy over segregated beaches. Despite anti-segregation efforts led by the local NAACP, in the 1920s African Americans in Bloomington-Normal could no longer eat at many restaurants or stay in downtown hotels, and were restricted to segregated seating in theaters. Quality jobs and housing were severely limited. Miller Park’s beaches were the site of tragedy in 1948 when six-year-old Phyllis Hogan drowned in its segregated waters with no lifeguard on duty. Plagued by poor water quality, the park’s segregated beaches closed in 1953. In 1957, officials reopened the larger beach on an integrated basis. Today, Miller Park — like all city facilities — is open to all.
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