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Watch Now: Camp Kum-Ba-Yah celebrates 60 years of history with Fourth of July celebration

The Fourth of July marks the celebration of America’s independence, but for Camp Kum-Ba-Yah, the holiday also is a celebration of the deep history that lives on the property.

On July 4, 1961, at the height of the civil rights movement, the swimming pools on the property of the Lynchburg campground were a catalyst in pushing the movement forward in the city.

On that day, six Black children were denied entry into Lynchburg’s Miller Park swimming pools, which, at the time, were “whites-only.” Instead of allowing entry to the six children, the city immediately closed down all three of its public swimming pools, which left many families with no place to celebrate the holiday.

It was only hours later that Rev. Bev Cosby, the camp director at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah at the time, opened up the two swimming pools on the property to everybody, allowing for the city’s first integrated swimming pool.

On Saturday, the 60th anniversary of those events, the camp unveiled two panels, one by the original location of The Lodge of the Fishermen, the first integrated eatery in Lynchburg, and the other by the two historic pools, commemorating the courageous acts of the six children and their chaperone to integrate the swimming pools.

Randy Nelson, who was once a camper and a counselor at Kum-Ba-Yah, and now sits on Lynchburg City Council, remembered what that day was like for the city during the unveiling of the panels.

“While the occasion of that Fourth of July afternoon was almost spontaneous and may have been a relatively small event,” he said, “it strategically moved the needle of Lynchburg’s moral compass and social consciousness.”

Not only did the integration of the swimming pools help move Lynchburg’s moral compass, it also pushed the city into the national spotlight at the time and drew the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which caused him to visit the city months later.

In March of 1962, Dr. King visited the Lodge of the Fishermen, the restaurant just steps away from the historic swimming pools. While there, Rev. Cosby had the honor of serving the civil rights icon a meal.

King also took time to stop at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg to deliver his famous “American Dream” speech.

Niro Rasanayagam, a member of the camp’s board, is hoping that these stories will not be lost on the younger generation, as they are just as important today as they were 60 years ago.

“These are stories that need to be captured so that the next generation knows about it,” she said. “Even people who grew up in Lynchburg don’t know that Dr. King came to Cosby Woods, spent time here, and had a local footprint here in Lynchburg.”

Henry Fleming, the head deacon and church historian at Diamond Hill Baptist Church, the lead church in the Lynchburg civil rights movement, also spoke at the ceremony alongside Nelson and is hoping that the panels will continue to inspire young campers for generations to come.

“I hope if there is a message here today it is that we all, regardless of race, must do our part to carry the water bucket forward,” Fleming said in his speech. “Positive change is something we must all constantly stay vigilant on and keep working on, building on each other’s efforts, if there is to be progress.”

The ceremony in which the panels were unveiled was just a small part of the celebration at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah. The festivities included ziplining, a scavenger hunt, hiking on the trails, and even swimming in the same two historic swimming pools that the panels are meant to honor.

Tremayne Edwards, a member of the camp’s board, was excited to have the community out, not only to commemorate the historical events at the pools but also to show off what the camp still has to offer.

“To be here and to have this moment right, I think we all are very happy to get outdoors again after the year we’ve had,” Edwards said. “And glad to be able to do this with our community because we are celebrating 60 years of an integrated space.”

This Fourth of July, the festivities at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah would have made Cosby and King proud of their efforts to “carry the water bucket forward,” he said.

The historic swimming pools were filled with families, the Lodge of the Fisherman was open to everybody, and the next generation of campers was enjoying the same grounds that Nelson enjoyed on that Fourth of July in 1961.

“Sixty years is a monumental event and it’s hard to imagine that it’s been that much time,” Nelson said. “...But to be able to participate in an event that so many former personalities and individuals that I knew and grew up with and worked with through the decades is special.”

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