Glen Echo, Md. — Tuesday marked exactly sixty years since civil rights activists began the movement that would lead to the desegregation of Glen Echo Park. It was June 30, 1960, when a group of Black college students launched a civil rights protest at the amusement park in Maryland, which was segregated at the time.
On that first day of protests, several demonstrators were arrested for riding the park's historic carousel, accused of violating the park's "whites only" policy.
"Glen Echo brings back a bunch of memories," Dion Diamond told ABC7 on Tuesday. "I still remember the people who got on the carousel. Several of them are no longer with us."
Diamond, now 78 years old and living in Northwest Washington, was among the original Glen Echo protesters. Back then, he was a college student at Howard University.
Prior to the protests at Glen Echo Park, Diamond also took part in lunch counter sit-ins in Virginia. He says those sit-ins saw quick results in the form of desegregation and helped motivate demonstrators to turn their efforts to the amusement park in Maryland.
"We were still high off succeeding in integrating Northern Virginia. So we said well let's see. If we've done this, what's the next one?" he recalls. "Glen Echo Park, as you know, is just on the other side of the Potomac. We said well why not, let's take on another one. And we did."
He spent weeks taking part in the protests at Glen Echo Park.
"Day after day, that picket line continued. And thankfully it was not only the college students," he said. "We were somewhat successful mainly because of the support we got from the people who lived in the community called Bannockburn."
Protesters persisted, and in March of 1961 came the desegregation they'd been fighting for: the amusement park opened its doors to people of all races.
"I'm very proud," Diamond. "It took almost two years to get them to open the doors to all, their gates to all."
As he looks back on this the 60th anniversary of the start of that movement, Diamond is also paying close attention to what's happening right now.
"I hope this is an opportunity for us to make some gains. I consider this another wave," he said. "What is past is prologue. Know your history. Don't let it slip. Take this wave, this momentum, and go forward with it. "
Due to his age and the ongoing risk of the coronavirus, Diamond says he hasn't been able to join in on the protests that were initially sparked by the death of George Floyd. But he wants demonstrators demanding an end to police brutality and racial injustice to know he stands with them.
"There's a double standard. There is still racism. And I think when white people see what's happening with the police departments, when they see racism in its true form, I think people are now doing a double-take," he said. "Many people have heard about racism, but they don't realize how it impacts people. I mean, it still impacts me."
Much like the protests at Glen Echo Park, Diamond believes we are currently witnessing a moment in history that will bring change.
"It's the youth of today who have to pick up the ball and run with it," he said.
The amusement park at Glen Echo Park served the community until 1968. The facility is now home to an arts and cultural center that is operated by the Glen Echo Park Partnership For Arts and Culture. The historic carousel that was the site of protesters' arrests is still standing. It normally operates from May through September each year, but closed in 2019 for repairs.
A spokesperson for the Glen Echo Park Partnership For Arts and Culture told ABC7 those repairs are now complete, but the carousel's grand reopening has been postponed due to COVID-19.