Gwynn Oak Park: A Civil Rights Movement in Baltimore

Gwynn Oak Amusement Park was one of many fun parks in the Baltimore area.  The park brought in guests with fun attractions like bumper cars, a wooden roller coaster, a merry-go-round, a giant ferris wheel, and of course rigged carnival games.  The park was very popular, did well financially, and was open for about 80 years.  The park was a constant in the community, and was enjoyed by many.  The first years, however, allowed only white guests into the park.  The park owners, the Price family, claimed that desegregating the park would put their white customers safety and satisfaction of the park at risk, and refused to desegregate.  The park remained white until 1963 when the Prices decided to desegregate Gwynn Oak Amusement Park.

Although protests to desegregate the park began as early as 1955, it wasn’t until 1962 that community groups, leaders, and organizations joined together and created a plan.  The entire community was involved in planning and organizing the protests, including known community leaders, students, activists, churches and church leaders.  Additionally, the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), Civic Interest Group (CIG), the National Council of Churches (NCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also joined to help organize protests of Gwynn Oak.

On July 4th, 1963, the protests of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park began and were highly publicized.  Protesters included locals of the community, church members, and even people from other states, all of multiple races and religious affiliations.  While nearly 300 of the protesters on July 4th were arrested, almost all were exposed to confrontation, hurtful and abusive language, and assault.  A few days later on July 7, even more protests against the amusement park took place.  The protests were now receiving national attention and protesters were growing by the day.  The voices of the protesters were finally heard, and the Prices decided that they would desegregate the park.

On August 28, 1963 Gwynn Oak opened their desegregated doors to the community, and guests of all races and religions flooded into the park. History was made in Baltimore on this day as 11-month-old Sharon Langley was the first African American child to ride the merry-go-round at the amusement park.

The park remained open and desegregated until 1972 when hurricane Agnes wiped through the city. Although the park was destroyed, the merry-go-round survived and was later moved to the National Mall in Washington D.C. near the location where Dr. King gave his famous speech years before.

In 2013, 50 years after the desegregation of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, Sharon Langley visited the same merry-go-round she rode that changed history in 1963.

Today, a city park open to the community occupies the location of the old amusement park. On site is a plaque commemorating the site, the activism that took place, and the progression that has been made in the civil rights movement.

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