Former civil rights activists commemorate the end of segregation at Gwynn Oak Park

Posted Tuesday, July 9, 2013 11:13 AM | Contributed by Jeff

The wooden roller coaster and the Dixie Ballroom are long gone. Gone, too, from Gwynn Oak Park is the merry-go-round where a toddler in a pink dress took a historic spin on a summer afternoon a half-century ago. That simple pleasure, a first for a black child at the formerly segregated Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, had become possible just weeks earlier in 1963 when hundreds of black and white protesters thrust Baltimore into the national spotlight and succeeded in integrating the park.

Read more from The Baltimore Sun.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 11:26 AM

Stories like this are hard to wrap my head around in some way. On one hand, this was only 50 years ago. On the other hand, you still hear stories of racism and other weirdness that should be ancient history. Sometimes I need to remember that I was actually a part of desegregation (a.k.a., "bussing") in the Cleveland schools, when it started in 1980.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013 11:39 AM

Even though the rides are gone from the park, it's good to see that the carousel lives on at the National Mall in Washington, DC. More from a historical point of view than a coaster geek perspective. Almost all carousels are called historic by their owners, but this one truly is.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013 1:37 PM

I saw Hairspray, so I know this story is true.

Sad fact: as late as the 50's and early 60's amusement parks and fairs hosted "colored day", the only day African American people were welcome. In the Cleveland area Puritas Springs Park intentionally went against the grain, long before mandated desegregation, and opened their gates to all every operating day. This didn't set too well with many west-siders and the story goes that business there wasn't as good as it could've been on account of it. But there are great testimonials from people who were grateful for a place they could go for rides and picnics without a hassle. And the park benefitted by hosting company outings that for the first time included employees of all ethnicities and their families.

It's said that one of the reasons we no longer have parks like Euclid Beach and Riverview is that the reputation for racial problems, real or imagined, kept the parks from successfully operating. Euclid Beach made no bones about the fact that any unsavory element (read: people of color) would not be tolerated. Those parks, like most, were originally in outlying areas that eventually turned urban and white flight, sadly, sounded the death knell.

I remember as a kid, in the 60's I would be invited by a friend to go to Euclid Beach for his dad's company picnic. Every adult in my all-write neighborhood and school would warn me about "other types" of people I would see there and to be careful. I didn't care. I always went, on my guard, but there was never any trouble, ever. And I'm so glad now I got to go.

Paula Deen seems to be catching all the flack these days, but remember what they say in Avenue Q. "Evelyone's a Rittle Bit Lacist".

Last edited by RCMAC, Tuesday, July 9, 2013 2:11 PM
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Tuesday, July 9, 2013 2:20 PM

I can believe what you describe in Cleveland. My grandfather was seriously racist, and I remember how different it was. I lived in the near-west side (not far from the zoo), and in the late 70's/early 80's, it was a fairly white population, very Eastern European immigrants, and a few small pockets of latinos (mostly from Puerto Rico). Further out, in the W. 100th+ streets, it was overwhelmingly white. Being all of 7-years-old at the time bussing started, it made no difference to me. I know desegregation was more about equal opportunity education, but I think it also helped shield an entire generation of Cleveland kids from racism.

Things sure have changed in terms of racial mix in the city, for the better, I hope. I still tend to take it for granted that "isms" were such a big deal, even in my parents' generation.

Last edited by Jeff, Tuesday, July 9, 2013 2:21 PM
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Tuesday, July 9, 2013 4:27 PM

We were at 196th near Wooster, in Fairview Park, so it was white as Wonder Bread out there. In 1968 we moved down to Worthington and for the first time in my life, as a freshman in high school, sat along side kids of other races. It was sometimes an embarrassing adjustment for me, and I was caught saying a lot of wrong things. But by the time I was a senior I had established lots of friends, with both black and white kids in our group.

Forward to the 70's when I lived and worked in Sandusky Ohio for 4 summers, two at CP and two as a temporary college hire at the telephone company. That small town was the most backwards, racist place I have ever experienced, before or since. As a liberal college student, particularly a gay one, I was constantly appalled at the way people acted toward each other. I was in an office of mostly women, black and white, and everyone seemed to work together just fine. But the minute someone's back was turned the language and the slurs, from both sides, mind you, were such that I wouldn't even think of printing them here. Amazing, and I haven't forgotten it to this day. It was a real lesson.

I haven't spent enough time in that town lately to know how or if things have changed. I would surely hope and expect so.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013 6:42 PM

I had the opposite experience, moving into the uber-white suburbs, where racism seemed alive and well. Then in college, add in religious bigotry.

The only people I don't like are stupid people. :)

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013 7:44 PM

Weird to me. Some traditions, including Native American ones, have a "seventh generation" concept that encourages an understanding of the impacts of our actions on others, the environment, the future.

I think we are roughly two generations removed from "legitimized" racism in this Country. There are still MANY areas where words and actions that hurt, deeply, are considered de rigeur. Spent last weekend in Sanford, FL (yes, that Sanford, home of George Zimmerman and Trayvon martin). My drive north to Wild Adventures goes directly past an absolutely enormous confederate flag flying "proudly" next to the Interstate. No need to go into the Paula Deen situation, but it is relevant. It's been about 50 years since the Civil Rights marches, the Loving decision from SCOTUS, and federal legislation prohibiting racial discrimination. We're definitely proceeding in the right direction...but it takes effort and patience to get where we're going.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013 9:51 PM

Bussing started in Grand Rapids, in the 70's. And, my older brothers and sisters were in high school during the riots. They went to Ottawa Hills Highschool, which at that time was 100 percent white, and one of the largest city schools with over 3,000 students. The other big schools in the city were Union and Creston, which were also mostly white. All the black kids went to Central, which was known as the roughest school in the city.

Many years after bussing, Ottawa and Creston schools are now 90 percent black. Union is about 60 percent black, and the outer lying schools are mostly white kids. Those being schools in wealthy neighborhoods. So, what good bussing has done seems pointless to me, as it just caused people to relocate. Which was probably intentional. Lots of new homes built during those decades, with people trying to vacate the city for more whiter pastures. Causing a real estate boom, and massive sprawling suburbs. I don't think that would have happened if things stayed the same.

At any rate, I could not imagine going to an amusement park where everyone was not welcome. We used to go to Carnivals when I was a kid in the 70's, and it seemed that everyone was there. My grade school was a mix of students, even when I was in 3rd grade. My teacher was black, and a very nice lady. 1973? So, I never experienced much of it myself.

The only thing that still seemed segregated was the all black church right down the street from our house. We called them the "holy Rollers" because their sunday night mass, could be heard for blocks. Went there once with my sister and her friends, and it was intense. Ladies were passing out in the aisles, they played rock music, and had a great choir. But, when we went my sister and I were the only white people there, and nobody said a word.

I also grew up in an all white neighborhood, which slowly became more and more black, with the Mexican's moving in little by little. It wasn't bad, and I had quite a few black and Mexican friends. But, getting toward 78, the neighborhood was almost all black, there were only 3 white families left on our street, and we were the first of them to move out. Now, none of the families we knew live there any more, and sadly, it is now one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. I went there recently, and it was just sad.

Last edited by Timber-Rider, Wednesday, July 10, 2013 10:01 PM
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Wednesday, July 10, 2013 9:58 PM

I've always wanted to visit a predominantly black church. It just seems like a really good time.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013 11:04 PM

You should go once LK, they are a blast.

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