Washington Revels and the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture are co-presenting a weeklong festival commemorating this Juneteenth holiday. The festival runs from June 17 to 25 and features live events every day!
Nestled along the banks of the Potomac River, Maryland’s Glen Echo Park holds a remarkable place in civil rights history. First developed in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly, it closed after one season and re-opened in the early 1900s as Glen Echo Amusement Park. Glen Echo Amusement Park enforced a strict segregation policy for over thirty years until a group of courageous students turned this public space into a battleground for racial equality.
Segregation at Glen Echo Park
Like many public spaces during the Jim Crow era, Glen Echo Park’s segregation policy barred Black patrons from accessing its facilities. It wasn’t until 1921 when Suburban Gardens opened, that Black residents had an amusement park of their own. Built in Washington, DC by Black-owned real estate company Universal Development and Loan Co., Suburban Gardens’ seven-acre property featured a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, swimming pools, games, picnic grounds, children’s playgrounds, and a dance pavilion. When it closed in 1940, no comparable spaces would admit Black patrons since Glen Echo Amusement Park remained segregated.
Elsewhere in the country, everyday people were taking remarkable stands against injustice and inequality: in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat; in 1957 the Little Rock Nine bravely enrolled at Little Rock Central High; and, in 1960 the Greensboro Four staged their first sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter. For students at Washington, DC’s Howard University, the Greensboro sit-ins inspired them to create the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) to combat racism and segregation in the DMV. In the summer of 1960, they protested every day at Glen Echo Amusement Park in hopes of gaining access to the same amenities as their white counterparts.
Protests and Legal Battles
Together with white residents of nearby Bannockburn, NAG activists began picketing on June 30, 1960, and continued daily protests throughout the summer. By September 13, protestors’ tenacity at the park brought the Montgomery County Council to rule that they would stop bus service bringing white children to the park’s Crystal Pool until the park was desegregated. Then that winter, an appeal from Hyman Bookbinder led the U.S. Attorney General to threaten to revoke a land lease, which if revoked, would end trolley access to the park. Owners Abraham and Sam Baker were forced to desegregate the park, marking a great triumph for NAG activists and members of the community. Glen Echo Park remained open for seven more years before closing in 1968.
The Transformation and Legacy
The protests of 1960 drew attention from the media and the wider public, setting groundbreaking legal precedents and scoring a monumental win in the struggle against racial discrimination. Now Glen Echo Park is a beloved space where everyone can learn, celebrate, and play together, and serves as the site for the upcoming Festival of Freedom. Presented by Washington Revels and the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts & Culture, this celebration commemorates the desegregation of the former Glen Echo Amusement Park with live musical performances, children’s activities, and a commemorative ceremony honoring those who were key to the park’s desegregation. We invite you to join what promises to be a healing and celebratory afternoon for everyone in the community.