Breaking The Color Line

062813_breaking_color_line1For Beverly O’Neal, Gwynn Oak Park represents mostly positive memories.

The longtime Baltimore-area educator remembers visiting the former amusement park as a child on trips from her home on the Eastern Shore.

What O’Neal didn’t grasp at the time was just how lucky she was to be freely enjoying the rides, games and other Gwynn Oak attractions. Just a few years earlier O’Neal, an African-American, would have been barred from even walking on the property grounds.

“I never knew until years later that it had been segregated,” O’Neal said. “As a child, you don’t pay attention to those types of details. I just knew that we were going to a park to have a good time.”

Gwynn Oak Park, located at the corner of Gwynn Oak and Gwyndale avenues in Baltimore Conty, just west of the city, became a rallying point in the area’s civil rights battle. The Fourth of July weekend marks the 50th anniversary of a massive protest staged at the park, a protest that resulted in the arrest of 283 people, many of them Jewish.

The protest garnered national attention, and on Aug. 28, 1963, Gwynn Oak Park finally ended its policy of segregation. To commemorate this anniversary, there will be a celebration at the park on July 7 from 1 to 7 p.m., as a diverse group of religious and community leaders will gather to share stories of the protest and hopes of fostering more positive relationships between the African-American and Jewish communities.

“Gwynn Oak Park shows what can happen when diverse communities work together for a common cause,” said Pete O’Neal, Beverly’s husband and a longtime multimedia journalist at WMAR-TV who produced the documentary “All the King’s Horses: The Story of Gwynn Oak Park.”

The O’Neals decided to produce the film and help spearhead the anniversary event after learning more about the interfaith effort to end discrimination at the park, which closed in 1973 after suffering severe damage from Hurricane Agnes. All too often, Pete O’Neal said, people only hear about the negative aspects of the relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities.

“As we learned about the history and the legacy of the park, I really felt it was important to do something to bring the communities together and honor this historic milestone in the civil rights history of the state,” Beverly O’Neal said.

Pete O’Neal added: “The biggest problem that we have faced since Gwynn Oak Park is that the older generations forgot about what was accomplished and the younger ones never even learned what was accomplished. They only know about the negative conflicts. We want people to know this story, understand this story and learn from this story.”

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