6-3 | Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America

Book Review

Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America

Victoria W. Wolcott
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. Notes, index, images. 310 pp. $25.00 cloth. ISBN: 9780812244342

by Matthew Wittmann

First Paragraph:

Victoria Wolcott’s study of urban recreation and the civil-rights movement begins with an epigraph from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that describes the tears of his daughter upon being told that Funtown, an amusement park in Atlanta, was “closed to colored children.” The quote effectively introduces Wolcott’s central argument, which asserts that the struggle against the segregation of recreational facilities, primarily swimming pools, roller skating rinks, and amusements parks, played an important role in the history of the civil rights movement. Wolcott’s history of “recreation riots,” what she defines as “racial conflicts in spaces of leisure,” covers both well-known events like the Orangesburg massacre, which stemmed from efforts by students at South Carolina State College to desegregate a local bowling alley, to a series of lesser-known, but significant struggles at recreation sites ranging from Cincinnati’s Coney Island amusement park to the Skateland rink in Cleveland and the public pools and beaches of Baltimore. The work both complements and extends the recent historiography of race relations and urban history in the United States by criticizing the “myth of Southern exceptionalism,” calling attention to the long battles over the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and emphasizing the fundamental role that white violence played in sustaining segregation.