Civil Rights Tour: Recreation - Rosedale Playground

1701 Gales Street NE

Rosedale Playground opened in 1913, yet it was restricted to whites only in a neighborhood where Black families had been living since the late nineteenth century. As the Black population in the neighborhood grew, this “public” facility became off-limits to an increasing number of area residents, including children who lived virtually next door to it. 

In 1948, a local chapter of the Young Progressives of America—an anti-segregationist organization—organized with Black neighborhood residents to demand entry to Rosedale’s pool and recreation center. The racially mixed group picketed the facility several times over the course of a few weeks, chanting “Jim Crow Must Go,” and bringing attention to the fact that four neighborhood black boys who were playing in the street outside the playground were arrested when their ball hit a street lamp. Despite these demonstrations, the Board of Recreation renewed its commitment to the whites-only policy at Rosedale.

In May 1952, when a group of ministers pointed out the obvious safety concerns: “colored children . . . must either play in the streets or cross dangerous Benning Road to play in the school grounds adjacent to Browne Junior High School,” protestors gained traction. Numerous civic groups stood behind the effort, lobbying District Commissioners.  

Later that summer after a young Black teenager, seeking relief on a hot night climbed the fence at Rosedale Pool and drowned, protests ratcheted up. Pacifist activists with the Summer Interracial Workshop—organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)—descended on the District, where they joined the Citizens Committee to Integrate Rosedale Playground in picketing the Recreation Department and the playground. After fighting broke out, the city closed the playground. Within one week of its closure, more than 100 neighborhood children climbed over and under the fence in what was “believed to have been a spur of the moment inspiration by several parents in the area who have grown impatient,” reported The Afro-American.

Finally, on October 17, 1952, the Board announced that the playground and recreation center would be open to all. Rosedale Pool was officially desegregated six months later. However, it was not until shortly after the public schools were legally desegregated in 1954 that all of DC’s recreation facilities became open to Black patrons.