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The Park

I grew up in an all-black neighborhood on the near northwest side of Indianapolis, Edgemont Street. It was a street of nicely kept homes and flower laced yards, not a ghetto as some might imagine a black neighborhood to be. Our house was a mass-produced National Home that was quite popular after the war for returning vets. It was basic, 2 bedrooms, a very small bath, a living room and kitchen, probably only 600 square feet in total. My sister, Pat, and I shared a bedroom that was barely large enough for the 2-twin beds with drawers under the foot and a small desk. It had 2 windows, separated by the head of my bed in the corner, which in the summer was the only air conditioning there was. On steamy summer nights when the air was as still as a cat and the windows were as wide open as we could make them, we would lie atop our bed covers in our underwear praying for a breeze.

On the weekends the community came alive. The sound of Mrs. Summers across the street yelling, “RICHARD!!!!, Richard!!” from her side door was the morning alarm. Mom and dad were busy getting the chores done that weren’t assigned to us. I would cut the grass with the push reel mower once I was head high above the handle. Before that, it was the bathroom. When I was done and lunch was finished, the “gang,” Phillip, Kenny and his brother Ralph and Joann, the neighborhood “Tom Boy,” would gather up to plan our mischief for the day. We weren’t a gang as you might imagine today. In our neighborhood you were everyone’s child. Mess up and your mom was waiting for you at the door when you got home. We were just a small bunch of kids who had been told to get out of the house and be home for dinner.

Usually we would walk the 5 blocks over to Riverside Park, a wide-open tree and grass carpeted space along White River. Sometimes we would go down to the river to skip rocks though if our parents had known, they would have skipped us! But the dam was broken and you could hop from dry spot to dry spot across to the other side when the river was down. In the park there were baseball diamonds and clay tennis courts where in the evenings we could watch white people play under the lights.

But at the far end of the park was the Riverside Amusement Park with its colorful, whirling lights glowing off the low hanging clouds.. It was a reminder of the white flight that had left it behind, an island in a sea of black. The sounds of excitement of the kids there could be heard across the green and through the trees where we played. The smell of popcorn and cotton candy wafted down the park. But we knew we were not welcomed there. If there was any doubt, the “White Only” sign at the gate made it clear. Years later, the amusement park was forced to desegregate. I refused to go. If they didn’t want me before why would I give them my money now. White parents were no longer inclined to bring their children into a black neighborhood to play side-by-side with black children who were no different from their own and the park fell into disrepair. In 1970 it closed.

It is sad to consider the opportunity lost to those privileged children to learn that regardless of color, we have so much more in common than in difference. It was an opportunity to learn that the evolving narrative about African Americans that had been perpetuated from the earliest days of enslavement was just a collection of lies intended to protect the advantaged and maintain the status quo of power and wealth.

1 Comment

Nancy Williams
Nancy Williams
Feb 18, 2020

Wow, powerful. So many of us growing up in the same era, though when we were old enough we knew there wasn’t equality, weren’t aware of the feelings that inequality brings. Thanks for sharing and enlightening us and giving voice to those feelings!

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