A HOWARD STUDENT CONFRONTS GUARD AT GLEN ECHO
Sam Smith, 2006 – In the summer of 1960, a local movement formed to end the policy of segregation at Glen Echo Amusement Park. Howard University students, members of the Bannockburn community, the local NAACP, Cedar Lane Unitarian Church and the Wheaton-Kensington Democratic Club, all picketed the park on a daily basis, as well as petitioned the Montgomery County Council, (because public school buses were bringing white kids to Glen Echo to swim and taking black Montgomery County kids to the D.C.’s Francis Pool for swimming lessons.) There was a legal battle as well, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Your editor was a reporter for WWDC and Deadline Washington News Service at the time. In August 1960 I wrote in a letter:
“Have been covering some of the anti-segregation demonstrations around the Washington area. The results here have been hopeful. Good police work has kept violence to a minimum although the presence of neo-Nazi Lincoln Rockwell and his “troopers” doesn’t make the situation any simpler. Quite a few lunch counters have been desegregated. Glen Echo Amusement Park is resisting despite a month of picketing and a Bethesda theater is also refusing to back down.”
In February 1960, four black college students had sat down at a white-only Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in fifteen cities in five southern states and within two months they had spread to fifty four cities in nine states. In April the leaders of these protests had come together, heard a moving sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
The summer I had first worked for WWDC I had covered the passage of the first civil rights legislation in Congress since 1875. Now it was getting serious. By the end of June, I was covering the desegregation of lunch counters in Northern Virginia after sit-ins by groups led a Howard Divinity School student, Lawrence Harvey. Harvey then took his troops to Glen Echo.
Although I saved few recordings from that period — tape was expensive and usually recycled — I still have the raw sounds I made that day. On it a guard and Harvey confront each other:
Are you white or colored?
Am I white or colored?
That’s correct. That’s what I want to know. Can I ask your race?
My race. I belong to the human race.
All right. This park is segregated.
I don’t understand what you mean.
It’s strictly for white people
It’s strictly for white persons?
Uh-hum. It has been for years. . .
You’re telling me that because my skin is black I can not come into your park?
Not because your skin is black. I asked you what your race was.
I would like to know why I can not come into your park.
Because the park is segregated. It is private property.
Just what class of people do you allow to come in here.
So you’re saying you exclude the American Negro.
Who is a citizen of the United States.
As a biracial group marched outside with picket signs, Harvey led a group inside to sit-in at the restaurant and mount the carousel horses. The case ended up in court and less than a year later, the park opened for all.