The Barbara Jean Story

Charles Payne

Photo from Pexels.com by Harry Cooke

Built by big, broken, and blistered Negro hands
to serve the citizens of South Bend.
They named me Public Natatorium,
the largest indoor swimming pool in Indiana.
I could not wait to meet the builders’ children,
but they were turned away
as if they didn’t matter
because they were Black.
But Barbra Jean did matter.
I will never forget her hand-stitched, ruby red bathing suit,
her little brown toes
that did not get to touch my crystal waters.
How did I not know
that I was built to discriminate? The signs wrote no coloreds, in blood.
The city official said:
they’d drain your dirty pool water before they’d let another nigger girl in.
Could there be no liberation in between my walls?
Was I no place for leisure, integration, or peace? Praise Jesus,
Hallelujah
A group of university historians
Saved me
Made me
a historical site
Baptized me in moldy water
Washed away my past sins
Deemed me a community center
Rebuilt me
Hollow brick, by hollow brick
Etched Barbra Jean’s story onto my walls, filled my empty pool
with a thing called hope, and a peace garden.
They evangelized all who entered,
preached about my history of exclusion
Brought back Barbra Jean and her family to see that the new me is
biased, no longer. Now, I am a spark for social change.
My roof leaks as I watch Barbra’s granddaughter speak about
fighting for freedom.

She does more than just reminisce about racism;
she is Barbra Jean’s wildest dream—
holding herself accountable for my mistakes,
slapping history in the face until Black women voters awake
and change the future of our God-awful state!


Charles Payne is a Wisconsin transplant, a certified teacher, and a self-taught spoken word artist. His work explores personal narrative and social commentary. He is the firstborn of a strict father and naïve mother. As a child, Charles loved hearing the sound of Paul Harvey’s voice, whose innate ability to describe every intricate detail truly inspired Charles to tell stories himself. And yes, he can’t wait to give you the rest of the story.

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