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The Austinite who helped desegregate Barton Springs Pool will be honored Saturday

Joan Elizabeth Means Khebele featured in a 2014 PBS documentary.
Screenshot
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Austin PBS
Joan Means Khabele's efforts to integrate Barton Springs Pool was the subject of a 2014 PBS documentary. The film will be screened Saturday at Barton Springs as part of celebration honoring the pioneer's legacy.

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Joan Elizabeth Means Khabele was a senior at Austin High School in 1960 when she was told she and other Black students would not be allowed at their senior picnic, which was to be held at Barton Springs Pool.

In protest, she jumped in the pool. Eventually, the students would be allowed at the event, but Khabele decided to strive for a more impactful policy change.

Her act of civil disobedience sparked a movement of weekly swim-ins in the summer of 1960, leading to Barton Springs’ integration.

A portrait of Joan Elizabeth Means Khabele taken while she was a senior at Austin High School 1959-1960.
Courtesy photo
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Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Born and raised on Austin's East Side, Joan Means Khabele became an activist while a senior at Austin High School after she and other Black classmates were denied entry to a school event at Barton Springs Pool.

Khabele's roots run deep in Austin. Her parents, James Means and Bertha Sadler Means, founded St. James' Episcopal Church in the 1940s, one of the city's first integrated congregations.

Born and raised on the city's East Side, her activism began in the 1950s when she was among the third group of students to integrate Austin High. She remained active in the civil rights movement after graduating from the University of Chicago and later earned a master’s degree in African Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.

An educator, activist, musician and avid traveler, Khabele returned to Austin. She was an active member of the Town Lake Chapter of the Links Inc. and served on the boards of the Austin-Maseru Sister Cities Committee, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and the Khabele School, which was founded by her late son Khotso Khabele.

Joan Means Khabele died from leukemia in October. She was 78.

A 2014 PBS documentary highlighting her efforts to desegregate Barton Springs will be screened at an event to honor her at Barton Springs Pool on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Attendees will have an opportunity to participate in an oral histories project. Listening booths will be set up for community members to share personal experiences regarding race and Barton Springs. The recordings will become part of an exhibit that will be featured at the Beverly S. Sheffield Education Center.

Details on Saturday’s free event can be found on the city’s website.

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