Tourched by the Spirit Their lives converged at an amusement park, at an historic moment in the civil rights movement. And 35 years later, each continues to make a stand.

August 24, 1998|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

A little after 1 p.m. on Aug. 28, 1963, Charles Langley arrived at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park with his baby daughter. The 28-year-old black clerk at the nearby Social Security Administration did not belong to a civil rights organization. He had never participated in the many protests at Gwynn Oak. And he certainly had not expected to find a group of reporters eager to record this family outing.

But he was smothered by attention as he strolled through the amusement park. After visiting various arcades and looking at the rides, Langley put Sharon on the merry-go-round.

When he settled his daughter's frilly pink dress on the carousel horse, a white woman asked Langley if he could keep an eye on her daughter as she was riding. Then a white boy took a seat on the horse next to Sharon's.

"I hope people of both races continue to support the park," Charles Langley told reporters. "I see no reason why it shouldn't be a tremendous success."

Ed Chance, Chester Wickwire and Alison Turaj, demonstrators who had gone to jail so that the Langleys could enjoy the park, were not there to savor the evidence of their hard-earned victory. Like hundreds of thousands of other activists, they were in Washington, listening to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver the speech that would become the hallmark of the civil rights movement.

As chairman of Baltimore's chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, Chance helped organize buses going to the March. Buoyed by the victory at Gwynn Oak, the 30-year-old black social worker felt the momentum of the Movement. He was certain his children would never know the pain of segregation and was proud he was helping to end it.

Alison Turaj, a 25-year-old white activist from New York, traveled to Washington with a busload of folks she had gathered from Harlem. Only a month earlier, her bloodied image had spoken of the hostility at Gwynn Oak, and she felt apprehensive about the large mixing of whites and blacks expected in the nation's capital. Instead, the day unfolded like all of her wishes for it, inspiring her to work even harder at ending the miseries of the ghetto.

Chester Wickwire, coordinator of religious activities at Johns Hopkins University, traveled to the historic march on a bus that was still segregated. And, there on the Mall, the 49-year-old white minister renewed his pledge to accompany his black brothers and sisters wherever their journey might lead.

On a hot summer day in 1998, Ed Chance walks quickly so the chocolate sundae he brought his son won't melt. Eddie is waiting eagerly in the hospital day room. He hugs his father with his right arm; his left is pinioned by a wrist restraint.

Ed Chance's old friend, Chester Wickwire, has come along to meet the young man. A long time ago, Wickwire contracted polio and spent six months in a hospital ward where he didn't belong. He says he feels kinship with 25-year-old Eddie. He thumbs through Eddie's journal, commenting on its daily litany of events: getting dressed, taking a shower, watching television. Monotonous routines can soothe people who have Eddie's form of autism, his father explains.

Eddie answers questions cheerfully with a broad smile. When the hospital loudspeaker announces dinner, however, the young man gets antsy. He doesn't like to miss a moment of mealtime.

The time has come for his goodbye ritual.

"You're my main man," Eddie tells his father.

"And you're my main man," Chance says. "And we are ..."

"Best buddies!" Eddie finishes.

It is tender and painful, this nightmare that no one imagined.

After the success at Gwynn Oak, Ed Chance moved gradually into the black nationalism he thought could best bring social change. For a while, he was chairman of the Black United Front at Union Baptist Church and president of the Black Social Workers.

But as other activists looked toward political careers, Chance determined to excel in psychiatric social work. He became the first black to direct a clinical department at Spring Grove State Hospital. Then, when a new superintendent eliminated his department, Chance struggled to ensure that social workers could perform their jobs as they had been trained and have the professional supervision they deserved.

By the mid-1970s, however, Ed Chance was beginning to understand his life's biggest challenge. Something was wrong with Eddie Jr., the child born 10 years after the victory at Gwynn Oak.

Something was very wrong.

When Eddie was eventually diagnosed as developmentally disabled with autistic-like behavior, Ed and Shirley Chance began to confront the consequences of his unpredictable temperament. Tantrums were second nature to the boy. Whatever you told him as he was biting and spitting and kicking and punching just didn't get through.

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