On a warm summer day in July 1945, 15-year-old Julia Martinez and her friends wanted to go for a dip. The city's swimming pools were segregated so they went to a river.

Martinez and one of the other teenage girls drowned.

Mike Martinez was born several years later so he never got to meet his sister.

Had the rules been different, "It would have made a big, big difference," he said.

Julia Martinez most likely would have gone to Branner Annex to swim that day. Blacks, whites and Hispanics had designated days they were allowed to use the pools.

Branner Annex was the primary school that Mexican-American children attended until pressure from parents to desegregate forced the city to commit to shutting it down in 1942, according to Capital-Journal archives.

Guadalupe Martinez, Mike Martinez's wife, grew up in the Oakland neighborhood. 

"The nearest pool was Garfield in North Topeka, and we could take the bus to North Topeka and get into the pool at Garfield but only, again, on certain days and I believe it was Thursday and Friday," she said.

The pools would be drained and refilled with fresh water every so often. Whites got use of the clean water first, then Hispanics, then blacks, she said.

Mike Martinez learned "bits and pieces" about his sister as he was growing up but never heard the full story.

He did know "there was no going near the water."

As an adult, Mike Martinez was at a meeting when a man he casually knew told him he had been with his sister when she drowned. The man said he ran for help and later felt that if he could have ran faster, maybe the girls could have been saved. 

Mike Martinez said learning about what happened to his sister was a painful process. She was the family's "pride and joy" and considered a bright girl, he said.

Many places in Topeka had racist policies.

"We were allowed to go to the movies, but you had certain areas," Guadalupe Martinez said. "Like at the Jayhawk (Theatre), you could only sit up in the balcony."

She said it was the norm back then.

"It's what we grew up in," she said.

The couple said that racism became more apparent in high school whenever interracial dating occurred. They are both graduates of Topeka High School.

Guadalupe Martinez said she thinks the history of the Hispanic community in Topeka is often overlooked or forgotten. She also said issues related to race have gone backward.

"I feel like we've taken five steps forward and now we're three steps behind again," she said.

Mike Martinez said he feels that issues have hit home.

"Especially here in Kansas," he said. "I like Kansas, but people have strong views."