Filed Under Race and Ethnicity

Euclid Beach Park Riot

Violence and the Color Line at Cleveland's Leading Amusement Park

On August 4, 1946, almost one year after the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and the end of World War ll, a picket line appeared in front of Cleveland's Euclid Beach amusement park for the first time in its history. Protesting the park's long-standing policy of excluding African Americans from using the park's roller rink, swimming facilities, and dance hall, an interracial crowd of over 100 picketers, including many uniformed World War ll veterans, held signs reading, "We Went to Normandy Beach Together — Why Not Euclid Beach?" Others compared the park's owner with the recently defeated leader of Nazi Germany: "Hitler and Humphrey believe in super race."

In the weeks that followed, protests continued and violence broke out. On August 23, Albert Luster, a member of the interracial civil rights group the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was severely beaten by Euclid Beach Park policemen. Luster had planned to join an interracial group of ten or so CORE members who, like other groups that summer, sought to test the park's policies by attempting to enter the dance hall together. But he had arrived late to the park; the group had already been roughly ejected from the park by the time he showed up. Park policeman Julius Vago found Luster sitting by himself on a park bench and set upon him with his nightstick in an apparently unprovoked attack.

Then, on September 21, two black Cleveland police officers scuffled with members of the Euclid Beach Park Police, and Patrolman Lynn Coleman ended up with a bullet in his leg. Coleman and Henry Mackey, off duty at the time, observed an interracial group of CORE members being treated roughly by park policemen as they tried to enter the dance floor. When the two Cleveland Police officers attempted to intervene, a fight ensued and Coleman's gun went off, hitting him in the leg. Other Cleveland Police officers detailed to the park soon intervened. Coleman was taken to the hospital, while the Euclid Beach Police officers involved in the fight, after undergoing questioning at Central Police Station, were released, the Cleveland Police Department opting not to pursue charges against them. The events that night came to be known as the Euclid Beach Park Riot.

Discussions soon began in Cleveland City Council that would result in the passage, the following February, of an ordinance that explicitly outlawed discrimination at Cleveland's amusement parks. Racial segregation at Euclid Beach seemed to be coming to an end. However, before the start of the 1947 season Euclid Beach leased its roller rink and dance hall to private clubs not bound by the amusement park ordinance. The bathing facilities in the park closed for good in 1951 after only a few summers of interracial swimming.

It is no coincidence that the 45-year policy of segregation at Euclid Beach met its most serious challenge in 1946, a year after the end of World War ll. The war heightened the likelihood of racial confrontations as black and white Clevelanders attempted to define what it would mean for race relations in the city. After the war ended, many white Clevelanders looked nostalgically to the years before the Great Depression and the war, and hoped to return to what they considered to be normalcy and stability after so many years of disorder. For many white Clevelanders, that meant returning to a racially divided community. Black Clevelanders, on the other hand, had been emboldened by their participation in the war effort — both at home and abroad — and anti-Nazi rhetoric seemed to discredit racist ideologies at home. They sought to solidify gains made during the war and stake a claim to full racial equality in the postwar city. These differing visions of postwar Cleveland collided at Euclid Beach in 1946.

Audio

'Gestapo Methods at Euclid Beach' This editorial appeared in the Cleveland Call and Post, Cleveland's weekly African-American newspaper, on August 31, 1946, several days after an interracial group of youths was beaten by the Euclid Beach Park Police after trying to enter the park's dance hall.
'Communism Is an Issue' This editorial appeared in the Cleveland News on February 1, 1947 following the Cleveland City Council's passage of the 'Carr Ordinance,' an anti-discrimination ordinance aimed at ending segregation in Euclid Beach Park.

Images

Euclid Beach Park Police
Euclid Beach Park Police The Euclid Beach Park Police were established by the park's owners to enforce the park's strict rules, including the prohibition of alcohol. The park police also enforced racial segregation in the park. This image, probably from the 1910s, shows police chief Jack McDonald posing with his nightstick. In 1946, the Euclid Beach Police scuffled with patrons flouting the park's segregation rules on several occasions. This culminated during the night of August 23, when two Euclid Beach police officers fought with two off-duty black Cleveland police officers. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection
Picket Line, August 1946
Picket Line, August 1946 The trouble at Euclid Beach during the summer of 1946 started on the night of July 27.   That evening, an interracial group of youths were refused entry to the dancing pavilion and, upon protest, ejected from the park. Groups picketed in front of the park the following week. 'We went to Normandy Beach together, what's the matter with Euclid Beach' and 'Hitler and Humphrey believe in super race,' read two of the signs. Some of the picketers wore their military uniforms as they walked back and forth in front of the park's main gates. This photo appeared on the front page of the Cleveland Call and Post, Cleveland's weekly African-American weekly newspaper. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Creator: Cleveland Call and Post Date: 1946
The Dance Hall
The Dance Hall The large dance hall at Euclid Beach regularly hosted big band acts who entertained crowds of dancing youths. African-Americans, however, were not permitted on the dance floor. This led to several altercations during the summer of 1946, when interracial groups of youths deliberately tried to gain entry to the dance hall in direct violation of the park's segregationist policies. The youths were roughly handled by the park police and ejected from the park. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.
Newsboy at Euclid Beach
Newsboy at Euclid Beach Euclid Beach, like many places of recreation in Cleveland before World War ll, discriminated against African Americans. The park did not charge an entry fee; blacks were allowed to enter, go on rides, and enjoy most of the other amenities. However, park policy barred blacks from the dance hall, roller rink, and bathing areas. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.
Henry Mackey
Henry Mackey Cleveland Police Patrolman Henry Mackey is shown following his scuffle with Euclid Beach Park Police on the night of the Euclid Beach Park Riot. Mackey and fellow CPD officer Lynn Coleman were both off duty when they got involved in an argument taking place in front of the dance hall, where black and white youths were challenging the park's segregationist policies. Coleman accidentally shot himself in the leg during the incident. The Euclid Beach Park Police officers were not charged. This photograph appeared in the Cleveland Call and Post and was not run in any other of the city's newspapers. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Date: 1946
Charles V. Carr
Charles V. Carr Charles V. Carr was a civil rights lawyer and Democratic politician in Cleveland, serving on the City Council from 1945-1975. He fought vehemently against racial discrimination in Cleveland's public places. Carr authored the amusement park anti-discrimination ordinance that was passed by Cleveland City Council in February 1947. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Date: ca. 1947
Three-Legged Race, 1951
Three-Legged Race, 1951 The events of 1946 did not permanently damage race relations at Euclid Beach, as evidenced in this 1951 photograph showing black and white boys participating in a three-legged race at the park. Nevertheless, the park's management privatized some attractions to skirt the effect of the 1947 anti-discrimination ordinance and even closed the bathing facilities completely in 1951 to avoid interracial use. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Date: 1951

Location

Euclid Beach, Cleveland, OH

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “Euclid Beach Park Riot,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 18, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/562.