By the summer of 1963 the family of Stuart Hudgins took part in the American Dream of home ownership for the first time, when they moved into a house on Harlem Avenue in West Baltimore.

But, it was an exciting summer for young Stuart – then age 12 – for more reasons than the thrill of a new family home.

By the end of the summer in September of 1963, Hudgins and a group of friends crammed into the back of a neighbor’s station wagon and made their first sojourn from West Baltimore to Gwynn Oak Amusement Park located just beyond the northwest boundary of the city in Baltimore County.

“When we got to the park we rode all the rides, we got the full experience,” Hudgins said. “The big dipper, the little dipper…The sound of the chains clicking as we were slowly going up the rollercoaster, man that was the scariest ride of my life,” Hudgins added with a laugh.

The privately owned idyllic 64-acre park opened in 1893. But, before the summer of 1963 Black kids, Black people had been barred from segregated Gwynn Oak for 70 years.

“We used to go by Gwynn Oak Park on the streetcar, but you knew you couldn’t get in,” remembered Hudgins, a graphic designer and curator who now resides in Annapolis. “You could hear the people having fun…we knew segregation was wrong, we knew it,” Hudgins added.

On August 28, 1963 – the same day Martin Luther King delivered his seminal, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the March on Washington – Black children and adults legally entered Gwynn Oak Amusement Park for the first time. 

However, in order for Hudgins, his friends and scores of other Black kids to enjoy that innocent childhood experience of a harrowing rollercoaster ride at Gwynn Oak, hundreds of mostly young people – Black and White, of different ethnicities and religions traveling from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and other cities and towns – had to face the very real peril of an enormous mob determined to keep the park all-White.

“We had to go over there that day and they were expecting us, a bunch of us from CORE” said John Roemer, a veteran of the Baltimore chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality during an interview for a documentary, “All the King’s Horses: The Story of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park.” Roemer and other veterans of the civil rights movement who put their lives on the line to desegregate Gwynn Oak told their stories in this documentary co-produced by veteran news videographer and filmmaker Pete O’Neal and his wife Beverly, a long-time Baltimore educator.

“The cops and the guards were standing around and they said, `Roemer, you are not getting in here.’ And I said, that’s perfectly all right because the rest of us are already in…the rest of the CORE people had went around to the back of the park…and somebody screamed, `Oh my God, the niggers got in from the back!’

For his efforts, Roemer was beaten, bloodied and tossed in jail along with nearly 400 other protesters during the demonstrations against the segregated park on July 4th and 7th.

Former AFRO assistant managing editor Jimmy Williams didn’t just report on the efforts to desegregate Gwynn Oak Amusement Park he joined the battle to open the park to all.

“There comes a time in life when one can no longer sit on the sidelines while others fight his battles. For a number of us that time came on Sunday afternoon under a warm and almost cloudless sky and the dark glances and darker words of a mob, we went to jail for entering Gwynn Oak Park,” Williams wrote July 20, 1963, recalling his arrest during those July protests.

“The lead up to the Gwynn Oak experience was like the summer of the youth rebellion,” Hudgins said. “We saw on the TV and read it in the papers what African-American kids in Mississippi and Alabama were doing…in a town like Baltimore you had some of the big players (of the Movement); Thurgood Marshall, Lillie Mae Jackson. Even though I was 12, we got the AFRO we got the news,” added Hudgins.

On July 20, 1963, legendary {AFRO} editor Carl Murphy himself weighed in on the landmark year in the American Civil Rights Movement, 1963 and the Gwynn Oak demonstrations specifically.

“The entire nation is alive to a new movement of Civil Disobedience – protests, picketing, demonstrators filling up jails – mass action to end discrimination against colored people,” wrote Murphy, known by most as “Mr. Carl.”

“THE NEW WORD is INVOLVEMENT. If freedom is to come, every real American, colored and white, must be involved. The spectacle of more white ministers than colored in the picket line at Gwynn Oak Park in Baltimore County; and …The other spectacle of more white students than colored under arrest in Cambridge, Md., has produced results,” He added.

“For this total concern of each of us in the movement, out of nowhere has come a new song. It is being sung with fervor and dedication and tears, but without fear, everywhere. We shall overcome…I really do believe, we shall overcome. No one we have found knows who wrote the words or the tune. All we know is that it is an old spiritual…What we do know is that there is a hymn sweeping the nation, a new national anthem, and that is the battle hymn of a great freedom movement.”


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor