By Martha Southgate for the New York Times

Cullen Jones and Lia Neal were among the many swimmers to win medals for the United States in this year’s Olympic Games. But their inspiring performances obscure a disturbing truth. Not only are they, as African-Americans, anomalies in the elite levels of their sport, but enormous numbers of African-Americans do not have even rudimentary swimming skills, a lack that costs lives.

Blacks Can't Swim

The fear of water that was instilled in African-Americans during Jim Crow has become self-perpetuating.

A 2010 study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis reported that nearly 70 percent of African-American children do not know how to swim. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American children between the ages of 5 and 14 are almost three times more likely to drown than white children….

Regardless of race, the poor lack access to pools and swimming lessons. Around 40 percent of white children and 60 percent of Hispanic children do not know how to swim — they, too, could benefit from free or affordable lessons. But why is the problem worse among African-Americans, many of whom, across all economic classes, lack confidence in the water? A large part of that unease is a legacy of slavery and segregation.

Read more here.