CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY
May 2022 | At our annual Gala in the Park, a proclamation honoring the 1960 protesters was read by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. Read the proclamation here.
The following is an excerpt from Glen Echo Park Carousel: A Brief History of the First 100 Years of the W.H. Dentzel Carousel at Glen Echo Park by Barbara Fahs Charles. (Read the entire history here.)
THE FUN WASN'T FOR EVERYONE
"Fun is where you find it. Where do you find it? Glen Echo Amusement Park!" —Radio advertising jingle
From its beginnings as a Chautauqua in 1891 and later as a place of amusement in the 1890s, Glen Echo Park only advertised in newspapers with primarily White readerships, such as the Washington Post and Evening Star. The park was not strictly segregated, but visitation by Black individuals and families was not encouraged, and likely discouraged. Excursion groups, however, were lucrative and park management actively booked church Sunday schools from both Black and White communities, often on the same day. This continued into the mid- 1920s. Restrictions hardened in 1931 with the opening of the Crystal Pool. From that point through the 1950s, park security did not admit Black patrons. This policy was widely understood, but never signposted.
1960. CAROUSEL SIT-IN AND PICKETING FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
Collins: Are you white or colored?
Henry: Am I white or colored?
Collins: That’s correct. That’s what I want to know. Can I ask your race?
Henry: My race? I belong to the human race.
Collins: All right. This park is segregated.
Henry: I don’t understand what you mean.
Collins: It’s strictly for white people.
Henry: It’s strictly for white persons?
Collins: Uh-hum. It has been for years.
—Confrontation between deputized security guard Francis J. Collins and Laurence Henry, spokesman for protesters
The sit-in by Black college students at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in early 1960 inspired similar protests around the country. In Washington, Howard University students, led by Laurence Henry, organized as the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) and successfully integrated lunch counters in Arlington, Virginia. Glen Echo Amusement Park, strictly segregated for decades, was their next target. On June 30, 1960, a sit-in was staged at the park restaurant. When that was closed off, 13 protesters, both Black and White, headed to the carousel with pre-purchased tickets in hand. They mounted their animals, but the operator refused to start the ride. After a two-and-a- half-hour stand-off, five Black protesters were arrested for trespassing. The NAG activists returned the following day and picketed for weeks together with White supporters, especially residents of Bannockburn, a liberal enclave adjacent to Glen Echo Park, and union members from the AFL-CIO. On several occasions, they faced counter-protests from George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party. Despite such harassment, the well- organized picket line, with daily shifts from 3pm until the park closed at night, continued until September 11, the end of the 1960 season.
The protesters vowed to return the following year, but just before the 1961 season was to start, the owners announced that the park would now be open to all. Glen Echo Amusement Park was desegregated, but the legal battle over the carousel sit-in continued. The Supreme Court ruled in June 1964 that the arrests violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Two months later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning discrimination in places of public accommodation. Glen Echo Amusement Park welcomed everyone for eight years, but did not reopen for the 1969 season.