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Baltimore County Now

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Keyword: civil rights

charcoal drawing of Dr. KingOrrester Shaw, Education Liaison for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

I will never forget when I first learned of the assassination of Dr. King. I was in my sophomore year at Morgan State, and as I was walking to the campus library to put the final changes on a research paper. Suddenly, one of my classmates informed me that Dr. King had been killed, gunned down as he stood on a balcony in Memphis.

I could not believe it. Later, I heard other students sharing the very same horrific news, many of them weeping, almost if one of their own immediate family members had been killed. Our nation has not been the same since that tragedy took place on the 4th day of April in 1968. I am not sure we ever will be the same again.

In my entire life, other than the assassination of President John Kennedy, I cannot remember any other time when this nation was impacted by an event to that degree. As I recall, there were mass riots, lootings and much unrest in every major city in the United States. Neighborhood stores were closed and ransacked. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “During the riots after Martin Luther King Jr.'s killing, 350 people were arrested for looting and published accounts say nine to 11 people died.”

Over the following few days and weeks, more than 100 cities would experience significant civil disturbances. National Guard troops were dispatched to bring peace, and in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. —it took thousands of active Army and Marine units to restore a sense of calm.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. King has become a national icon in the history of American progressivism. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the source of hope, pride and dignity for people of color. He stood for freedom, equality and fairness for all people. His message moved people from all races to work together for a better society. The American civil rights movement that he spearheaded changed the culture of our nation and created an awareness that our country needed and still needs today.

Moreover, the most amazing and significant take-away of Dr. King’s legacy is that all of this was accomplished through non-violence. It is for this reason and so many other overwhelming reasons that we now celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. When I think about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, I am reminded of one of my favorite songs of worship, “If I Can Help Somebody.”

                                             If I Can Help Somebody

If I can help somebody
As I travel along
If I can help somebody
With a word or song
If I can help somebody
From doing wrong
My living shall not be in vain.

My living shall not be in vain
My living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody
While I'm singing this song
My living shall not be in vain.

In 1983, Congress passed legislation that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan recognizing Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. Illinois was the first state to adopt Dr. King’s birthday as a holiday, and the state of my own mother’s birth, South Carolina, was the very last state to commemorate this great man.


Gwynn Oak Park LogoAs part of the County’s commemoration of the anniversary of the desegregation of Gwynn Oak Park, "Opening the Gates: Celebrating Gwynn Oak Amusement Park 50 Years Later," several Baltimore County officials contributed their personal recollections about the park for Baltimore County NOW.

The Meeting Spot
Cynthia Pollock, Executive Assistant to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

I recall that, initially, when I was younger, we could not go to Gwynn Oak Park. My parents never elaborated, they just said that we could not go. There always seemed to be a lot of commotion going on. Later, when I became a teenager, Gwynn Oak Park was the meeting spot for us kids when we got out of school, especially on Fridays.  We would meet up, catch the #38 bus, and we were let out right at the park.  I have fond memories of riding the Ferris Wheel and the Wild Mouse, as well as eating too much cotton candy and meeting boys. Looking back, I realize that those memories would not have been possible without the trailblazers of the Civil Rights movement who picketed for equal rights for everyone. 


A New Appreciation for Gwynn Oak Park
Adrienne A. Jones, Speaker Pro Tem and Delegate, Maryland House of Delegates
 
How do I remember Gwynn Oak Park? At nine years old, I was not permitted to go. I remember my mother's face as she explained why my brothers and I couldn't ride the rides or play the games like the kids on the other side of that gate.
 
Even after its desegregation, I didn't have the desire to go there for a very long time.
 
When Hurricane Agnes came in 1972 and flooded Gwynn Falls, I didn't truly feel the effect of the park's closing because I could not attend as a child.
 
In more recent years, my appreciation for the park has grown. The exclusion I felt as a child no longer exists, and I now sometimes visit the park to attend lively cultural festivals and the great events held there by community groups, nonprofit organizations and the faith-based community.
 
This timely commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Gwynn Oak Park's desegregation not only recognizes the past, it further opens the gate to a more diverse Baltimore County, and a more diverse Maryland. I look forward to seeing you on July 7.


One Sunday Afternoon at Gwynn Oak Park
Larry Simmons, Special Assistant to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz

Sarah Jane Bundy was the head of the local NAACP branch in our community when Gwynn Oak Park was desegregated. As I recall, she was responsible for encouraging parents and their children to visit the park. My first trip there, however, occurred the second summer after the park was integrated. My brother and I had planned the trip for several weeks after Sarah Jane spoke with our mother. One goal of the local NAACP branch was to recruit teens and young adults who would not react violently to taunts and physical threats, which was in keeping with Dr. King’s doctrine of non-violence. I guess we fit the mold, or perhaps we were just naïve.

The first trip was on a Sunday afternoon. We went to mass first, for a little extra spiritual strength and moral support. Then we joined three of our buddies and traveled to the park by bus. Yes, it was the #28 bus, which took us straight there. In fact, the park was located at the end of the line, which meant that the bus stop for the return trip was close by, in case there was trouble. We did our best to sit near the back of the bus because the older guys always held a “Motown Review.”  Having an opportunity to travel through other neighborhoods was another highlight for most of us. My father owned a car, so I wasn’t too thrilled about getting on the rides at the park because touring Baltimore with my father and uncle on a Saturday afternoon was far more exciting, but that’s another story!

I remember entering Gwynn Oak Park for the first time. There were a couple of policemen near the gate who gave us a once over, but were more concerned about gate crashers. A few of the white kids also gave us the big stare-down, or as we called it, “The Look.”  I was rather used to that look because I attended an integrated junior high school. While we were purchasing our tickets, several mothers pulled their children out of the line. That was to our advantage, though, because we were able to get on the rides quicker. As for the rides, the “Wild Mouse” was the best thing going. The other rides were fair, but the kids seemed extremely excited. Most people just seemed to be walking back and forth checking out the attractions, or losing money on the various games.

In the end, for me, that day didn’t feel all that different than any other Sunday afternoon. Only in my later years did I come to truly understand the significance of my first visit to Gwynn Oak Park.

During my high school years, a group of us decided to sponsor bus trips to other parks such Hersey, Glenn Echo, Wild Wood and Atlantic City. The venture proved to be rather profitable, although we still got those “looks” when we arrived at the out of state parks.

Whether local or across state lines, “The Look” was “The Look.” Fortunately, nowadays, if I go to parks like Gwynn Oak, “The Look” is no nowhere to be seen.


Black and White
Fronda Cohen, Baltimore County Office of Communications

Some of my favorite days as a kid involved a trip to my aunt and uncle’s corner grocery store. It was one of those small, family-owned stores where the shelves were so high you needed a long stick with a grabber at the end to snag a can of peas. The bottles in the large red Coca-Cola cooler needed an opener, and the penny candy actually cost a penny.

The neighborhood was Argyle and Mosher Streets. Today, it’s called Upton. The neighbors were black, and my aunt and uncle were white, but you’d hardly know the difference, the way folks would stop into the store just to say, “Hi, Mr. Morris,” to my uncle or, “Meet my new baby granddaughter,” or, “My son just got a great report card.”

In 1963, Mr. Morris could visit Gwynn Oak Park.

His neighbors could not.

Even a kid knew that just wasn’t fair.


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