restricted access 21. DARE
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~ 21 ~ DARE T he searching social questions posed in Bob Dylan’s 1963 hit “Blowin’ in the Wind” seemed to capture the spirit of that year. The summer of 1963 was one of brutality, of billy clubs and head wounds, of fire hoses and tear gas, of blood and death. There were protests in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Albany, Georgia. In Danville, Virginia, a group of sixty-five Negroes, led by Reverend H. G. McGhee, marched around the jail to protest the arrest of two ministers who had staged a sit-in at city hall, waiting to see the mayor. Reverend Lawrence Campbell and Reverend A. I. Dunlap were indicted for “inciting to riot,” and bail was set at $5,500 each. As McGhee led the group of mostly women and teenagers around the jail singing hymns and praying, Police Chief E. G. McCain gave firemen the order to turn high-pressure hoses on the marchers, knocking them down and washing them into parked cars. As the marchers lay drenched in the streets, they were beaten bloody by police and deputized garbage collectors. Of sixty-five demonstrators, forty were hurt. About the same time in Plaquemine, Louisiana, 236 people, including CORE leader James Farmer, were arrested for marching to city hall to protest segregated schools and accommodations. They were summarily jailed in improvised stockades for ten days. This was only the first of many protests that would send shock waves through Iberville Parish—where Registrar Ella Billings publicly vowed, “Niggers ain’t gonna run this parish”—well into the fall. As Independence Day 1963 drew near, a coalition of civil rights groups working throughout the Northeast under the leadership of CORE and including SNCC, NAACP, NSM, and forty other church, labor, political, and peace organizations met to develop plans to focus mass protest on the Baltimore area. One particular target was the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, promoted as “Maryland’s Favorite Family Playground.” Blacks were not permitted even to set foot in the park. When we were contacted in Washington, 186 the education of a black radical DARE was just getting off the ground. We had been closely following news of the events in the Deep South, and we were eager to get back in the action. Four of us drove up to Baltimore and met with 280 other demonstrators at Metropolitan Methodist church in West Baltimore. We were shuttled by bus the fifteen or so miles out to the sixty-eight-acre park in Towson, Maryland . Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, the CEO of the United Presbyterian Church, Bishop Daniel Corrigan, and other representatives of the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy, along with protestors from throughout the region, two-thirds of whom were white, filled the buses. It was the largest assemblage of clergy ever brought together to protest discrimination, and it marked a kind of philosophical/historical shift in how Americans would view the civil rights movement. On the way to the park, we worked ourselves into the proper nonviolent onward-Christian-soldier mood by singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Many protestors waved miniature American flags out the bus windows. Others of us finished making placards. The sky was blue; the air was thick and hot. I was excited. I felt alive. It had been too long since I’d been in a bona fide protest, since I’d tested myself, tested the rhetoric. When we arrived at the park, the plan was to line up in rows across the fifteen-foot-wide concrete walk leading up to the booths where whites bought food and amusement tickets. We would move forward in ranks up the walkway where, if we were stopped or told to leave, we would sit down. We would be completely peaceful, but we would resist. We all knew we were likely to be arrested. As our buses pulled up to the entrance, I immediately saw that the situation was worse than I had expected. A crowd of what must have been more than three hundred whites massed around the walk, and nearly a hundred park and county police, many in riot gear, ringed the whole area. I was truly shaken inside by the blatant hatred and anger on the faces of the jeering, taunting whites. This mass display of hatred by those in uniform and out was worse than anything I had ever seen or experienced in Baton Rouge...


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