Pauline Jackson Paved The Way Across Channels And Lakes

Courtesy of The Catalina Islander, 12 January 1927, Santa Catalina Island, California.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878 – 1949) was an American tap dancer, actor, and singer, the best known and the most highly paid black American entertainer in America during the first half of the twentieth century.

Robinson was as generous as he was talented and well-known; he helped many entertainers and athletes during his career although he ultimately died in poverty. Robinson played a role in helping many – including the 4-time 1936 Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens and Pauline Jackson.

While Owens was ranked by ESPN as the 6th greatest North American athlete of the 20th century and the highest-ranked in his sport, and was on the six-man shortlist for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the 20th Century, few people remember Jackson.

Jackson was a trailblazing black female open water swimmer from New York who helped break barriers in the sport in the 1920s and 1930s. Shown above as swimmer #36 at the start of the Wrigley Ocean Marathon at Isthmus Cove on Santa Catalina Island on January 12th 1927, she traveled and compete far and wide across the United States and Canada.

She also competed in the Canadian National Exhibition swims in the late 1920s. While she was never close to being on the podium, she was renowned for her cold-water swimming abilities.

Her swimming prowess, tenacity and fund-raising abilities helped her launch a career into professional marathon swimming world in the 1920s – and subsequently helped pave the way for others like Walter S. Johnson who also competed at the Canadian National Exhibition events. Johnson is shown below as swimmer #4 along with #1 Jimmie Tosaka of Japan, #2 Marvin Nelson, #3 Mendell Burditt, #5 Sam Shields, #6 Isadore Spondor, #7 George Young, and #8 Bill Goll.

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