Joan Means Khabele Bathhouse


On April 4, 2024, an Austin City Council resolution renamed the Bathhouse at Barton Springs Pool in honor of Joan Means Khabele whose courageous act of swimming in Barton Springs to protest segregation at the pool sparked the civil rights era swim-ins that eventually led to the desegregation of Barton Springs Pool.  

The name change to the Bathhouse comes two years after the City of Austin declared April 9, 2022 as Joan Means Khabele Day. Upon completion of the rehabilitation, visitors who enter the pool through the north entrance will pass through the rehabilitated historic Joan Means Khabele Bathhouse to learn about an important piece of Austin's civil rights history.  

Joan Elizabeth Means Khabele was an activist and scholar from Austin. Born at Holy Cross Hospital in East Austin, she attended Blackshear Elementary School and Kealing Junior High. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in the Brown v. Board of Education decision that separating children in public schools based on their race was unconstitutional, and in 1956, Joan was one of the first Black students to enroll at all-white Austin High.  

When Joan and other Black students were not allowed to swim at Barton Springs during the Austin High annual senior picnic, she protested by jumping in the pool despite the rules barring Black people to swim. She along with other activists bravely defied the segregationist policies of the time during these “swim ins,” which eventually led to the integration of Barton Springs Pool. 

Joan went on to earn degrees from the University of Chicago and UCLA, worked in the Peace Corps, and taught in several African countries. After eventually moving back to Austin, she went on to have three children and eight grandchildren. She passed away in 2021.

The 1947 Bathhouse was constructed in the Art Moderne Style and is a State Antiquities Landmark and listed to the National Register of Historic Places. The Barton Springs Bathhouse includes the bathhouse itself, lifeguard offices, the BJ "Buster" Robinson Sr. Information Center, and the Beverly Sheffield Education Center.  

The restoration of the historical rotunda as the main entry and a redesigned educational exhibit within the Beverly Sheffield Education Center will foster stewardship of Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer, educating pool visitors about the importance of protecting water and preserving the salamander habitat.