ROUND AND ROUND TOGETHER
"Portrays the struggle of everyday citizens to end racial segregation." Taylor Branch
ROUND AND ROUND TOGETHER introduces a new "symbol" of the Civil Rights struggle and the hopefulness of the 1963 March on Washington where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. The "symbol" is — the merry-go-round on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. ROUND AND ROUND TOGETHER tells its story.
On August 28,1963—the day of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther's King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech—segregation ended finally at a Baltimore's Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. Eleven-month-old Sharon Langley was the first African American child to go on a ride there that day, taking a spin on the park's classic old-time merry-go-round, which since 1981 has been located on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
That same merry-go-round is now on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., having moved there in 1981, a few years after that Baltimore amusement park closed, after being devastated by a hurricane.
ROUND AND ROUND TOGETHER describes the nearly decade-long effort to integrate Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, weaving the story into that of the civil rights movement as a whole, providing an easy-to-follow overview of the struggle against Jim Crow. The Baltimoreans who kept adapting their strategies over the years at that park were typical of civil rights volunteers in other cities and towns, all chipping away as best they could to bring an end to an unjust social system.
This book, geared to high school/middle school students—and adult readers, too—would be great to read before a trip to Washington, D.C. The book introduces a new symbol of the harmony Dr. King sought: the Gwynn Oak merry-go-round, sitting now in a prime spot on the National Mall, not far from the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, close also to the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King gave his famous speech. Today kids and adults of all races and backgrounds can have a ride, going round and round, having fun together.
Review from Kirkus
"A snapshot of the civil-rights movement in one city provides insight into the important role of individual communities as change moved through the country.
"The struggle of local activists to integrate a small amusement park in Baltimore, Md., serves as the focus of this examination of attempts to change discrimination laws from the 1940s through the 1960s. What makes this rise from the level of local to national interest is the fact that the classic carousel from the now-defunct Gwynn Oak Park sits on the National Mall, where all ages and races climb aboard. Interestingly enough, the first African-American child to ride the carousel did so on the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech during the historic 1963 March on Washington. Nathan, who grew up in Baltimore during this turbulent period, has written a detailed history of the city's civil-rights activism, placing the incident at the park in historical and social context. Many were involved, both black and white, young and old, and a significant number were connected to what was happening beyond their own community. The many period photographs and excellent source credits enhance the story.
"This very dense narrative will work best as a case study of how citizens of one city both precipitated and responded to the whirlwind of social change around them." (Nonfiction. 14 & up)
Book Review by Kam Williams, syndicated columnist
"About four months before the March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested during demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. While in jail, he wrote a letter in which he explained why he protested…
'When you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year-old daughter why she can't go to the amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her mental sky… then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.'
This book tells the tale of the nearly decade-long struggle to liberate [Gwynn Oak's] once whites-only merry-go-round, weaving its story into that of the civil rights movement as a whole."
-- Excerpted from Chapter One (pgs. 9 & 12)
One of my earliest childhood memories from back in the Fifties was asking my mother if the family could go to Palisades Amusement Park right after watching a TV commercial featuring kids enjoying its rides and swimming pool. My hopes were dashed when she patiently explained that we couldn't because colored people weren't allowed in.
Who knows whether a kid ever fully recovers from having it ingrained in your brain at such a tender age that you're a second-class citizen? And yet, just such a scenario ostensibly played out in millions of other African-American homes back then, even that of Dr. Martin Luther King, who specifically referred to his frustration with precisely the same predicament in his historic Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
For this reason, America owes a debt of gratitude to Amy Nathan for writing Round & Round Together, a welcome reminder of the ten-year struggle to integrate Baltimore's Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. It was whites-only from its opening in 1894 right up until Sharon Langley became the first black child allowed on a ride there on August 28, 1963, the very same day that Dr. King delivered his prophetic "I Have a Dream" speech.
The title of Round & Round Together was inspired by the fact that it was the park's merry-go-round that little Sharon rode that fateful afternoon. In the book, the author seamlessly interweaves eyewitness accounts of the long effort to desegregate Gwynn Oak with descriptions of what was simultaneously transpiring elsewhere around the country in the Civil Rights Movement.
The text arrives amply augmented by dozens of archival photos taken at Gwynn Oak, many of which show demonstrators being carted away by cops for trying to cross its strictly-enforced color line. It also includes a number of iconic images already emblazoned on the nation's consciousness: of the March on Washington, of dogs being set loose on picketers in Birmingham, Alabama, of a firebombed Freedom Riders' bus, and of Rosa Parks being arrested for refusing to sit on the back of the bus.
A profoundly moving tribute to the intrepid unsung heroes who risked their lives to help bring an end to Baltimore's Jim Crow Era.
Kam Williams, syndicated columnist
Review appeared in the Afro-American Newspapers and on the African American Literature Book Club website
KidsBoookshelf.com review of ROUND AND ROUND TOGETHER
"This stunning book details the struggles of the 10-year protest movement to integrate an amusement park in Baltimore, Maryland. The story of the Gwynn Oak integration struggle is told in context of the civil rights movement. Jim Crow laws had made segregation legal in schools, stores, restaurants, and all public places. Civil rights leaders, students, and protestors struggled for many years in peaceful, nonviolent protests to change the laws and bring equality to all people. Full of facts, quotes, photographs, and personal stories this book should be read by students everywhere. (Young-Adult to Parents)"
Baltimore Sun, October 28, 2011
"Book illuminates Baltimore's early role in civil rights
City had early role in fight for equality"
by Jacques Kelly
Only recently, with the controversy over the proposed demolition of the Read's drugstore at Howard and Lexington, are we beginning to take note of Baltimore's important and early role in the civil rights movement. A few weeks ago, a copy of a new book, "Round and Round Together," arrived with much to say.
Its title refers to Gwynn Oak's merry-go-round, which the author treats as a kind of centerpiece and metaphor for the local movement of the 1950s and 1960s. I later spoke with the author, Amy Singewald Nathan, a Baltimorean from Hunting Ridge who had just graduated Western High School during the summer of 1963, when Gwynn Oak was the subject of national attention.
Nathan told me she initially started writing the book with high school readers in mind and later expanded her text for a larger audience.
She shows that the first five-and-dime store to open its lunch counter to African-Americans was Kresge's, at Park and Lexington, in 1953. Its competitors soon followed suit — and there were many when downtown Baltimore was a vibrant shopping destination. The bigger department stores were initially reluctant to open their counters and tearooms. But by the spring of 1960, even the sedate Hutzler Brothers' Colonial Tea Room was accessible to all.
I spoke with John Roemer, who was vice chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality at the time. His father headed Hutzler's food service, which was Maryland's largest restaurant chain though its downtown flagship store, boasting four restaurants and multiple branches.
When his father watched television news footage of demonstrators picketing on Howard Street, he said, "Those people are ruining my business." The younger Roemer, then a Princeton University student activist, responded, "I am vice chairman of that group."
Another important local integration battle took place at the old Hooper's restaurant on Fayette Street near what is now the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse. Its owners refused to serve blacks. Among others arrested in 1960 protests there was Robert Bell, then a Dunbar High School senior and today Maryland's chief judge.
On a radio broadcast, Roemer happened to hear that the mayor and governor would be going to Hooper's to attempt a mediation. He knew that the top officials always took reporters along, and he knew from his father, who had once worked for the Hooper family, that an employees' door would be open should the front door be closed to black patrons.
Sure enough, he and fellow activist Walter Carter were denied at the front entrance, but they slipped in through the alley door and took a seat. Just as the mayor and governor arrived — along with a large press contingent — they were again denied food service and ejected.
"Customers started leaving, and they remarked it was disgraceful they way people were being treated," Roemer recalled.
Throughout this period, activists were looking to integrate Gwynn Oak Park, a privately owned summertime amusement grove with a handful of rides, including the carousel that becomes a centerpiece of the book. After days of arrests, and involvement of well-known members of the clergy, the park opened to all, just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was addressing thousands on the National Mall in Washington. The park remained in business but felt strong financial competition from larger, more sophisticated amusement destinations then opening along the East Coast.
Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 caused the Gwynns Falls to overflow and inundated the park, which is now operated as a Baltimore County public greensward. That same carousel, the ride that was at the center of all those demonstrations and arrests, now sits, restored and operating, on the National Mall in Washington.