Sepia Saturday – Protest at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. 

I started working on this post a couple of years ago. It wasn’t a Sepia Saturday submission at that time, but a continuation of my research into the life and times of my great uncle Fred M. Webber. The prompt image reminded me of this unfinished story. I’m afraid it will still be incomplete, but I’m going with it.

Reverend Fred M. Webber moved to the Baltimore, MD area in the spring of 1960 and was installed as General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore in September. He quickly became an active participant in an ecumenical group of clergy who were committed to advancing civil rights, fair housing, and other justice issues. In February of 1962, Fred and his clergy peers participated in a lunch counter demonstration at two segregated restaurants in Baltimore.

In a 1963 Christmas letter, Fred’s wife, Carol, reported that great uncle Fred had back surgery in June of that year, having two injured discs removed. Even so, Fred participated in the March on Washington in August. That’s a pretty fast turn around, in my opinion, since recuperating from back surgery can take some time and participating in such a large demonstration seems daunting. On the other hand, it was an opportunity to take part in an historic moment. Something not to be missed.


How did Fred M. Webber occupy himself during the time between his back surgery in June and the March on Washington in August? Carol says that Fred organized a committee during his recuperation that resulted in The Maryland Clergy Convocation on Religion and Race, featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the keynote speaker. I’m sure that was a highlight of the year!

Following the tradition of using the celebration of freedom and national pride to put a spotlight on injustice, civil rights activists in Baltimore, MD staged a demonstration at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park on July 4, 1963. I think we can safely assume that Fred was recuperating over the 4th of July holiday and missed out on the action. Fred’s daughter, who was a senior in high school at the time and didn’t always pay attention to the details of her parents’ lives and conversations, does remember overhearing the park being a topic of conversation and that discrimination was at issue.

Gwynn Oak Park opened in 1894 as a Trolley Park, a picnic and recreation area built by a trolley company whose streetcar line ran past the park. Trolley parks were precursors to amusement parks and the companies who built them hoped to encourage ridership, especially on weekends. In the photo below, you can see a streetcar on the far right.

And a later photo of a street car with a Gwynn Oak roller coaster in the background.

Most trolley parks did not charge admission, but did charge for rides. Gwynn Oak had a Ferris Wheel, two wooden roller coasters, bumper cars, The Whip, and a merry-go-round.

The Whip, By ConneeConehead101, Wikimedia Commons


Gwynn Oak Park was whites-only from the beginning. Segregation by rules and laws was the norm across the South.

“By the end of 1955, Baltimore’s Jim Crow system had a few dents in it. The city had survived its first year with desegregated schools. College students had managed to end discrimination at all of the city’s Read’s drug stores. Lunch counters at many low-cost variety stores had also been integrated. However, big, expensive, downtown department stores still had Jim Crow rules. So did most of the city’s restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels.” (Nathan, 2011, p. 62.)

By 1954, local civil rights activists turned their attention to Gwynn Oak Park. They first tried persuasion, picketing, and handing out fliers. Small groups of blacks and whites entered the park and attempted to buy tickets, only to be turned away. The activists decided to target the park’s annual All Nations Day Festival, the park’s biggest money-maker. The festival was also chosen because it was not “all nations” as promoted. Embassies of African countries were not invited – and local citizens of African ancestry were not admitted. On Labor Day 1962, the Baltimore chapter of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) picketed All Nations Day for the ninth year in a row. By this time, the group had become more media-savvy and also decided to approach the invited embassies and discuss the discriminatory practice. The Indian Embassy said they would not participate if there was discrimination; it made the news; and all of the other invited embassies followed suit.

Even with the bad publicity, Gwynn Oak remained a whites-only park. More bad press followed when the superintendent of Baltimore’s Catholic schools announced that parochial schools would no longer hold picnics at Gwynn Oak.

The events that finally resulted in the park being desegregated occurred on July 4 and July 7 of 1963. The July 4th demonstration included protesters from out of state as well as prominent religious leaders. The press knew what was about to happen. The police were made aware of the size of the planned protest and worked with the organizers. The organizing groups involved wanted great impact, but no violence.

Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, a white Presbyterian minister spoke at the pre-demonstration rally on Thursday morning, July 4th. Dr. Blake came from New York to attend the demonstration and, as the national head of the United Presbyterian Church, he was the most famous of the out-of-town participants and was responsible for many of the clergy being there.

When the protestors arrived at the park in the early afternoon, about 1500 white customers were inside, enjoying the park on a hot summer day. Some of the protestors formed a picket line in front of the park entrance while others formed groups and prepared to enter. The first group to walk up to the ticket booth included the most newsworthy demonstrators: Dr. Blake (Presbyterian), Bishop Daniel Corrigan (Episcopal), Rev. Bascom (local activist and minister), Ed Chance (CORE), Furman Templeton (Urban League), Father Joseph Connolly (Catholic). The photo below includes Dr. William Sloan Coffin (Methodist) in front.

Joseph Connolly, Eugene Carson Blake, William Sloan Coffin, Marion Bascom

For three hours, group after group approached the ticket booth and then walked out under arrest, accompanied by police officers, to board police vans and busses. Some protestors sat and refused to move and had to be carried out by police.

You can watch the arrest of Dr. Blake (in the white hat) and listen to his words in the video below.

Although the ministers, priests, and rabbis got the bulk of media attention, most of the demonstrators were young people. By the end of the day, 283 protestors had been arrested, including more than twenty religious leaders. These numbers overwhelmed the Baltimore police and judicial systems.

Protestors sitting and waiting to be loaded into police vans

… When a reporter asked Rabbi Lieberman why he had joined other clergy to be arrested, he smiled and said, ‘I think every American should celebrate the Fourth of July.'” (Nathan, 2011, p.160.)

As big and impressive as the July 4th protest was, it did not end the whites-only policy. The leaders organized a committee while they were in jail to plan more demonstrations and immediately went into action. Another protest followed just three days later, on July 7th. This protest did not have the numbers of prominent and out-of-town participants, but several of the local clergy encouraged members of their congregations to join them. This time the 300 civil rights protestors were outnumbered by more than 1500 segregationists – a group more hostile and willing to throw rocks than the crowd on July 4th.

Ninety-five civil rights protestors were arrested that Sunday, including thirteen local clergymen, one of whom dressed up in a red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam costume to show that he felt protesting was patriotic. (Nathan, 2011, p.179.)

Rev. David Andrews, assistant chaplain Morgan State College. Dressed as Uncle Sam

There is so much more to the story than I have included here and I need to wrap things up!  I didn’t even mention the owners of the park … If you have an interest, most of my information came from the book  Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement, by Amy Nathan. And there is quite a bit of information online.

Threats of further protests, talks, and negotiations finally resulted in Gwynn Oak Park opening its doors to the black community on August 28, 1963 – the same day as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And we know where Fred M. Webber was on that day!

Sharon Langley became the first black child to go on a ride in Gwynn Oak – the merry-go-round.

“Two white youngsters about age six – a boy and a girl – climbed onto horses on either side of Sharon. They were big enough to ride by themselves, but the girl’s mother asked Mr. Langley to keep an eye on her daughter to make sure the little girl would be safe during the ride. He was glad to help. This perfectly normal parent-to-parent request – so typical of the way parents help each other at playgrounds and parks – took on special meaning this day. ‘These are the kinds of things that make me feel we’ll be accepted,’ he told a reporter later.'” (Nathan, 2011, p. 204.)

Some of the names in this story (some included in this post, some not) have direct links to Fred M. Webber, including Father Joseph Connolly and Furman Templeton. And, I’m guessing that Dr. Eugene Carson Blake was in some sense Fred’s boss. It makes sense to me that Uncle Fred was involved in some way with activities and/or planning that happened before and during the protests at Gwynn Oak Park since he met frequently and served in various roles with those who were there that day. I would also venture a guess that he was disappointed that he could not be there.

John Waters, who wrote the movie Hairspray is from Baltimore. He made up most of the events in the movie, but Tilted Acres, the amusement park in the movie, is based on Gwynn Oak Park and there really was a dance show similar to the one in the movie. The real Buddy Deane Show was whites-only, except one day a month when it was blacks-only. In 1962, there was a protest against the segregated show, and an integrated “dance-in” took place August 12, 1963 – just days before the integration of Gwynn Oak. The show was cancelled in 1964.

Well, that’s my take on the theme image today. Hop on a trolley or a roller coaster if you prefer, and see how others have interpreted the theme image at Sepia Saturday.

Nathan, A. (2011). Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books.

P.S. If you are interested in reading more about my great-uncle Fred, take a look at the Fred Myron Webber page.

3 Rabbis, a Priest, and a Presbyterian Minister …

walked into the Mandell and Ballow deli in Baltimore on February 7, 1962.

But they didn’t walk into Miller Bros. restaurant that day.

The group also included Dr. Furman Templeton, director of the Urban League in Baltimore – an African-American. They were refused entrance to the segregated restaurant.

After learning that my great uncle Fred M. Webber had participated in the 1963 March on Washington, I immediately started searching the internet to see what else I could find. I was excited by a link to Google Books.

The link took me to page 56 of Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore by Gilbert Sandler. Curious, I thought, since Fred wasn’t Jewish, but there was Fred M. Webber’s name on the first page of the chapter titled “Demonstrators: Baltimore Rabbis Confront Segregation.” And scrolling down to page 57 was a picture of Fred M. Webber! (The picture immediately below is the one referenced in the book, but does not appear in the book.)

BS Segregation Baltimore Miller Bros.jpg

Clergy standing outside Miller Brothers Restaurant after being refused entrance

The chapter begins:  “Awakening on the morning of February 8, 1962, the Jews of Baltimore were stunned to see in their morning newspaper, a two-column picture that, for the Baltimore Jewish community, would close one era and open another. The picture would please some, disturb others and become the talk of the synagogue circuit.

The caption beneath the picture described the event depicted: Demonstrators: Five clergy and the Urban League director stand outside segregated restaurant that refused to serve them. They are from left: Rabbi Abraham Shaw, Rev. Fred M. Webber, Rev. Joseph Connelly, Rabbi Morris Lieberman, Rabbi Abraham Shusterman, and Dr. Furman Templeton.” (1)

In the weeks preceding the clergy protest, several restaurants in Baltimore had been picketed by biracial groups of college students who had previously been refused service. As reported in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, the clergy randomly selected two restaurants known to be segregated and called to inform them that they were coming – to give the restaurants “every advantage.” The clergy also notified the press. The protest was timed to coincide with the opening of the Maryland General Assembly, which was to consider public accommodations legislation that would desegregate all restaurants and hotels.

Although the group was seated at Mandell and Ballow and stayed for a half-hour lunch, the restaurant’s comptroller explained that the group was seated out of deference to the clergy and that the restaurant would remain segregated until passage of the public accommodations legislation. (2)

1962.02.08 Fred M. Webber newwspaper 1

1962.02.08 Fred M. Webber newspaper 2

I’m sure I read another source (but I can’t find it now!) that said that the clergy wanted to pay a visit to one Jewish restaurant as part of their protest. Mandell and Ballow fit the bill.

Shortly before the clergy protest in early February, Mandell and Ballow deli had experienced an embarrassing incident in which a “group of Israeli sailors, all originally of Yemenite extraction, had gone to the deli and been denied service because of their dark skin.” Once the manager learned the men were foreign Jews, they received apologies and were seated. (3)

Following the incident with the dark-skinned sailors, the deli was picketed by a youthful labor Zionist group and, the following week, the Baltimore Board of Rabbis urged Jews not to patronize restaurants that discriminated.

I’m guessing the deli management didn’t want any more bad publicity the day Fred Webber and his clergy colleagues showed up for lunch.

While researching this, I found a wonderful website with many personal stories told by civil rights activists in the south. Rosalyn Garfeld Lang picketed Mandell and Ballow and shared this and other stories. Check out

To view a photo of the clergy standing outside Mandell and Ballow deli that day, search for Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore and include Fred M. Webber in your search terms.

If you would like to read more about Fred M. Webber, click the Fred Myron Webber tag/link at the bottom of this post.

(1) Sandler, Gilbert. Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore. Charleston, SC: The History Press,
(2) Nordlinger, Stephen E. “Clergymen Demonstrate Against Bias.” The Sun. Feb. 8, 1962.
(3) Lang, Rosalyn Garfeld. “A Baltimore Girl Sits In.”
(June 15, 2014).


Fred Webber – General Presbyter of the Baltimore Area 1960-1971

Fred Webber InstalledOn Wednesday, September 28, 1960, the Rev. Fred M. Webber was installed as General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore. He remained in this position until his “retirement” in 1971. The installation took place at Faith Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

I’ve been digging around to learn more about my great uncle Fred and his involvement in the civil rights and ecumenical movements during the 1960s. To provide some background I’m considering these questions:

What did this move and new job mean for Fred Webber and his family?
What does a General Presbyter do?
What prepared him for this position?

Although I can’t really know what this new job and move meant to the Fred Webber family, I can imagine that Fred viewed it as a great opportunity. His wife, Carol, had been through several moves and job changes by this time – all part of the life of a minister. Three of Fred’s and Carol’s children were grown and on their own, so they were unaffected by the move from Hamburg, New York, to Baltimore, Maryland. However their youngest daughter, a Junior in high school, was “very angry (very, very, very angry)” with her father for moving before she finished high school and she did not make the move with her parents. Instead, Bea lived with the school librarian and her husband (members of Hamburg Presbyterian Church where Fred had been the minister), until the end of 11th grade. Happily, Bea reports that “the minister and his wife at the Catonsville Presbyterian Church (in Maryland), where Mother joined, had a daughter my age and she very graciously welcomed me that summer before our senior year. She met me on the way to school the first day and walked with me. After that, I found my own way and had a fabulous year, so I forgave my father.”

What does a General Presbyter do?

In my search for a job description, I found this one by The Rev. Dr. Kevin Yoho, General Presbyter of the Newark Presbytery: “As General Presbyter, I support and direct the work of the staff, provide guidance to the Mission Council, committees, and teams of the presbytery, represent and link the presbytery to educational, civic, and private institutions. I also serve as a pastor to the pastors and am available to offer confidential support, coach, and pray with our pastoral leaders. 

Many conversations emerge with opportunities for partnering with congregations seeking and changing pastoral leadership; supporting congregational leaders feeling the pain of transitions, stress, and conflict that comes from growth and transformation; encouraging congregations in their discernment and pursuit of their missional identity; offering leadership in the Synod and national Presbyterian Church, and fostering denominational, ecumenical, and interfaith relationships….

Building trust, celebrating growth, fostering discernment through appreciative inquiry, inviting collaboration, clarifying ministry, assessing wellness and effectiveness, offering guidance, leading presbytery staff; these are the kinds of activities that I hope add value to the entire presbytery as it helps every pastor and session fulfill their unique mission in the world.”

That last paragraph fits my imaginings of how Fred envisioned his role as General Presbyter.

What prepared Fred for his new job as General Presbyter and his involvement in the civil rights and ecumenical movements?

A rather stern looking family. Fred Webber 2nd from left

Fred Webber 2nd from left

Fred M. Webber was born to Dorinda Strange and M. D. Webber in 1906, the fifth of nine children. He was a younger brother of my grandmother Abbie. His father, M. D. Webber, served as a pastor in several small churches, although he eventually gave up the ministry in order to support his large family. Nevertheless, the practice of their Christian faith was a given in Fred’s family of origin.

Debate Champions

Debate Champions – Fred 2nd from left

Fred was an avid reader and enjoyed debate. He was named “Best Debater in the State of Iowa in 1926.” He graduated from The State University of Iowa in 1930 and later earned a Master of Divinity from Colgate-Rochester Theological Seminary in Rochester, New York. Fred began his ministry as a Baptist pastor in 1932, but was received into the Presbytery of Buffalo-Niagra in 1941 and served several churches in New York.

In a resume written around 1974, Fred summarized a few of his professional duties and accomplishments prior to his position as General Presbyter. It’s a little difficult to read, so I’ve typed in the highlights below.

Webber, Fred Myron 1974 Resume pt. 1

Webber, Fred Myron 1974 Resume pt. 2

* In Bath I followed a Pastor who had left under quite unhappy circumstances, so my first responsibility was a healing ministry, which I feel was rather well accomplished.
* (Weedsport) My major contribution to the life of this congregation was broadening its view of the total mission of the church; from virtually no support of mission outside the congregation, we moved to fairly significant support
* (Youngstown) I found here the same lack of support outside the parish, and brought that support up to a respectable figure. Growth in membership was about 20%, and in attendance about 40%
* (Hamburg) Once again I was confronted with a lack of concern beyond the parish … By the time I left, the church was giving $1.00 to general mission for every $2.00 for local mission. Membership grew from about 150 to over 1,000; a new church was erected.
* Fred was commissioner to the General Assembly in 1947, 1958 and again in 1965.

It does appear that these were valuable experiences that Fred could apply to his job as General Presbyter. In the resume above, he says the following about his work in the presbytery: Presbytery was severely divided when I came, and we made significant strides toward uniting it. 

In addition to the experiences listed above, Fred was known as having a “can do” attitude as exemplified by his favorite saying, “If you can read, you can do anything.”

Among the files sent to me by Fred’s daughter, Bea, is a humorous letter written in 1968 addressing the Presbytery of Baltimore at the 566th Stated Meeting. The letter was submitted by the congregation at Catonsville and speaks of Fred as an impossible man in an impossible job in an impossible place.

November 16, 1968

November 16, 1968

An additional question I have is what influenced Fred’s involvement in the civil rights movement. I haven’t read any of Fred’s sermons, so I don’t know if, when, or how often he preached on the issue of civil rights, but it is obvious from his resume that Fred always pushed his congregations to look (and give) beyond the doors of their church. I asked family members to offer their thoughts regarding what influenced Fred’s commitment to civil rights:

Anyone care to speculate what his early life and family experience played based on what you heard from Fred or what you heard about or experienced yourself in the home of Dorinda and M. D. Webber? Or maybe it was time spent in seminary, as a pastor?

I received the following responses:

* I think his civil rights position came from his Christian principles. I think civil rights became a big issue after he had a congregation.
* Bea found a 1920s prayers for social justice book in all the things she went through last year, so I think his convictions surely came from his full life experiences.
* One of our grandmother’s (Dorinda Strange Webber) brothers was killed by an Indian before she was born. She talked about that fact fairly often, but I never heard one negative word about that particular Indian or about Indians in general. I think that the Webber family was not into racial, ethnic bigotry at all. God made and loved each human being, no matter color, etc. I think that would have had an impact on anyone who lived with them – especially those who grew up with them.

To add a little more context, I did just a smidgen of research on the Rev. Dr. Kenneth G. Neigh, who gave the sermon at Fred Webber’s installation. Mr. Neigh was the general secretary of the Board of National Missions, a position he held from 1959-1972.

In 1996, the New York Times published an obituary for Kenneth Neigh calling him “a national Presbyterian church official who put the church in the forefront of the civil rights movement and broadened its commitment to social causes in the 1960s.” It continues – “For a man who was less than five and a half feet tall and had an uncommonly soft voice, Mr. Neigh wielded a lot of power from his office on Riverside Drive, then the headquarters of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States….. Although he had official power only within his own church, Mr. Neigh’s pioneering approach was credited with influencing similar efforts in other churches, especially after his friend and admirer, Eugene Carson Blake, the Presbyterian Church’s top ecclesiastical official, carried Mr. Neigh’s vision with him when he became head of the National Council of Churches and later of the World Council of Churches.”

So – there we have some background to place Fred Webber in Baltimore in the 1960s. Coming soon – a look at some of Fred Webber’s actions in support of civil rights and ecumenism – and perhaps a look at some of his other contemporaries, including Eugene Carson Blake.

If you would like to read more about Fred M. Webber, click the Fred Myron Webber tag/link at the bottom of this post.

Webber, Fred Myron 1930 College DiplomaWebber, Fred Myron Master of DivinityWebber, Fred Myron 1932 Baptist