Defiance at Druid Hill Park

July 13, 1992

In our collective consciousness, most of the smaller acts of defiance and protest in the civil rights movement have been overshadowed by the waves of humanity that have taken to the streets to demand change. The movement is symbolized by marches.

But as crucial as the marches were, it would be foolish to construe them as the sole catalyst for change. Equally foolish would be to dismiss the significance of the smaller acts.

One of those acts involved 24 black and white protesters who walked onto the segregated clay tennis courts at Druid Hill Park 44 years ago and proceeded to play tennis -- together. For that they were arrested. The subsequent legal battle nearly made it to the Supreme Court.

The fact was, 1948 was a little too early for the kind of change these protesters were demanding.

Many of the successes of the civil rights movement would not come until the mid-1950s and beyond. The city's recreation and parks system would not end its Jim Crow policies until 1956.

When measured against struggles in the areas of housing, education and jobs, a protest over the use of recreational facilities seems small indeed. But when illuminated in the eyes of children no longer forced to use sub-quality facilities, or the freedom accorded adults no longer forced to abide by awkward and unjust rules, a protest in the park grows in stature.

Many of the protesters who were there in 1948 are no longer with us. They are either deceased or have moved away. None of them went on to become famous in politics or some other sphere. For a moment 44 years ago, however, they were brave young champions.

A monument to the 24 was dedicated Saturday at the site where the protest occurred, thanks to the diligence of Charles L. Williams, who was not among the protesters but remembers what they accomplished. For their small act of notable significance, we owe them our gratitude.

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