A proposal to rename the Barton Springs Bathhouse is moving forward swiftly and with the enthusiastic endorsement of many city leaders. The city Parks and Recreation board Monday unanimously approved naming the historic structure after Joan Means Khabele, whose act of civil disobedience spurred the successful fight to desegregate Barton Springs Pool.

Khabele is known as the first Black person to jump into the Springs pool, an act that signaled the start of a 1960  “swim in” movement that led to its desegregation, the Austin Monitor reported.

“I believe it is important to name the bathhouse in her honor, because it is important to acknowledge the contributions of Black Austinites,” said Lesedi Khabele-Stevens, one of Khabele's grandchildren who spoke at the meeting. “She had eight grandchildren in total and we were able to enjoy Barton Springs as a result of her heroic acts.”

The renaming will also help combat the "gentrification and the erasure of Black people in Austin" that results from "not acknowledging Austin’s history in regards to racism and segregation – and those who fought against it," Khabele-Stevens said.

“Currently, all the names associated with Barton Springs are white men,” said Barton Springs lifeguard Scott Cobb, who submitted the renaming application. "We know who saved the springs, but we don’t know who desegregated the springs. And that’s as equally important today as it was in the 1960s.” 

A working group of the Parks and Recreation board is also looking into the possibility of changing the name of the Springs, which are named after William Barton, a slaveholder and proponent of the extinction of Native Americans who moved to Texas in 1828, according to a 2023 KXAN report.

A public outreach process found that 86 percent of those surveyed supported the bathhouse name change, said Parks and Rec's Kimberly McNeeley, and most of the 14 percent who didn’t “felt that too much of old Austin was going away, or that we should just leave things the way that they are, instead of continuing to rename – that renaming itself was problematic.”

Names of the bathhouse's BJ “Buster” Robinson Sr. Information Center and the Beverly S. Sheffield Education Center will likely remain in place, McNeeley said.

The city and the Barton Springs Conservancy broke ground on long-planned renovations to the bathhouse earlier this month.

The Austin City Council will make the final decision on the bathhouse renaming in a vote tentatively scheduled for April.