How prejudice changed in a few generations

Dr. Sammy Lee sitting on diving tower
Dr. Sammy Lee, gold medalist and doctor, on a diving tower.

It’s unbelievable how our world has changed. I’m not talking about the pandemic. I’m talking about how far we’ve travelled away from prejudice and racism in my generation and my parents.

I was working on a story about a swimmer, Paul Jeffers, who grew up in Southern California in the 50’s and 60’s. He swam with a swim school called the Sammy Lee Swim School. He’s working with a friend and fellow swimmer, Bill Brown, who graduated from USC in Cinema on a documentary about the life of Dr. Sammy Lee.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Dr. Sammy Lee, Olympic Gold Medalist and Doctor:

Dr. Lee overcame years of racial prejudice with a positive attitude and hard work. As a young diver aspiring to be an Olympian, he was only allowed to practice diving Wednesdays at the Pasadena’s Brookside Park segregated public pool on “International Day.” The pool was drained after International Day and white children swam the other six days a week. His coach at the time, dug a hole and filled it with sand so Sammy Lee could practice the rest of the week. He believed diving into sand made his legs stronger and was helpful to his Olympic aspirations.

He attended Occidental College where he was able to dive each day in a pool with teammates and pursue his Olympic dreams. His parents, who sacrificed to come to America and start a small business, pressured Sammy to become a doctor. He was able to do both.

Although Dr. Sammy Lee served in the Army during the Korean War, was an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist — and an Olympic Gold Medalist — he encountered more prejudice. He was blocked from buying a home in Orange County.

Simply amazing to me that such an accomplished man would face such prejudice, and it was not that long ago. What’s also remarkable is how he kept positive and succeeded with hard work and grace.

Sammy Lee at the pool with divers Dr. Sammy Lee with other divers.

Do you have any stories to share about how our country has changed for the better in the last five or six decades?