Protesters picketing to desegregate Glenn Echo Park circa 1960. Find images in Digital Collections.
In 1960, if you were to drive by the Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland–a small town just northwest of Washington D.C. that maintained a vastly white population–you might’ve witnessed an unusual sight. Throughout the summer of 1960, Glen Echo residents joined alongside African-American students from nearby Howard University in picketing outside the Glen Echo Amusement Park, a local institution since 1899. Like so many other protests and boycotts across the country during this time, the purpose of this student-led demonstration was to challenge the park’s long-standing policy of denying equal access to black residents.
Modeling themselves on previously impactful protest groups like the Greensboro Four, a group of students from Howard called the “Nonviolent Action Group” worked to peacefully combat segregation in their own community. A group of about 20 N.A.G. members arrived at the Glen Echo Amusement Park on June 30, 1960 to try to gain entrance. After being denied access to the carousel–one of the more prominent and popular attractions at the park–the NAG members announced a protest outside the park until it allowed entrance to all residents.
The student-led boycott of Glen Echo Park gradually grew in size over the course of the summer and garnered both local and national media attention. The protestors attracted a significant group of supporters–including many white local residents who picketed alongside the students. They also attracted counterprotestors, including members of the American Nazi Party who wanted to preserve the segregated park and threatened violence against the protestors.
By the winter of 1961, the boycott of Glen Echo Park garnered enough coverage to catch the attention of US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who threatened to retract the park’s federal lease unless it became fully integrated. The federal government’s threat proved to be a major turning point for the NAG-led boycott that was about to enter its ninth month. On March 14, 1961, Glen Echo Park owners Abraham and Sam Baker announced that, for the first time in its 52-year history, the park would be open to people of all skin colors.
Like the Greensboro sit-ins just a few months earlier, the Glen Echo protests of 1960 served as a microcosm of the civil rights campaigns and achievements that would define the decade. Peaceful protests and united local resistance helped spur social change that is still evident today, as Glen Echo Park remains a visible and prominent attraction for residents of Glen Echo and the greater Washington D.C. communities.
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David Biel, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.