Edward Chance, 70, civil rights activist who led 1963 Gwynn Oak park protest

February 05, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edward A. Chance, a civil rights activist who helped lead the historic 1963 demonstrations that culminated in the integration of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, died of cardiac arrest Thursday at his Catonsville home. He was 70.

Mr. Chance was born and raised in Parmele, N.C., the son of William Claudius Chance Sr., an educator who established a school for black children, and Julia Johnson Chance, a teacher.

"They set the precedent for the things that my father later became active in," said his daughter, Julia A. Chance of Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 1948, his father was arrested and dragged off a southbound Atlantic Coast Line Railroad passenger train at Washington's Union Station for refusing to move to a segregated "Jim Crow" coach. His U.S. Court of Appeals victory in 1951 set the precedent that led the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw segregation in interstate travel.

"The victory is not his alone. It is democracy," wrote Langston Hughes in Ebony Magazine.

At age 16, Mr. Chance graduated from his father's high school in 1948, and began his college studies at Hampton Institute.

He enlisted in the Army in 1953 and, after his discharge with the rank of corporal in 1955, returned to Hampton. He earned a bachelor's degree in social science in 1956. He was a caseworker for the old Baltimore City Department of Public Welfare while earning his master's in social work from Howard University in 1961.

That year, he was hired as a social worker at the Spring Grove state hospital. He was its director and coordinator of social work at his 1994 retirement.

In his civil rights activism, Mr. Chance picketed segregated restaurants and downtown department stores and worked in voter registration drives. He joined the Congress of Racial Equality in 1961, and in 1963 was named chairman of its Baltimore chapter.

CORE had picketed Gwynn Oak in 1955, on All Nations Day -- when the whites-only park was excluding African cultures from recognition in its celebration. Mr. Chance and fellow CORE members held a larger protest at the park, beginning July 4, 1963, and focusing national attention on Baltimore.

"The demonstrations attracted supporters from all sections of society. It was the first large-scale protest in Baltimore to bring together college students, middle-aged businessmen, homemakers, toddlers and the elderly," The Sun noted in a 1998 anniversary article.

During three days of demonstrations, 383 people were arrested -- including Mr. Chance -- for violation of the Trespass Act.

"My jail friend," recalled another of those arrested, the Rev. Marion Bascom, former pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church. "We shared the same cell that day. He was a stubborn, beautiful man who wanted a sense of freedom as an American. He was stubborn as sin."

The owners relented, agreeing Aug. 28, 1963, to open the park to all. Nine years later, however, it went out of business -- damaged by Tropical Storm Agnes, its owners declaring bankruptcy. Now, it is the site of a Baltimore County park.

"He was quite an unassuming person, who was laid-back but gifted with a quiet determination when he put his teeth into something," said the Rev. Chester L. Wickwire, former chaplain at the Johns Hopkins University, who also was arrested in the protest.

Mr. Chance continued his civil rights activities after Gwynn Oak, serving on the Maryland Committee for the March on Washington in 1963, and as chairman of Baltimore's Black United Front organization from 1968 to 1970.

He also served for many years on the Foster Care Review Board and was a founder in the early 1980s of W.C. Chance East End, a program named after his father with goals of promoting black heritage and higher education through scholarships.

In recent years, Mr. Chance had waged another battle, this time against state authorities regarding treatment for his son, Edward A. Chance Jr., who is developmentally disabled with autisticlike behavior, and now living in a group home in Rockville.

"That effort on behalf of his son broke his back and heart, something that the civil rights movement couldn't do," said Mr. Bascom.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday at March West Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Chance is survived by his wife of 40 years, the former Shirley Case; another daughter, Elise Chance-Mussen of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a sister, Anice Chance Wilson of Alexandria, Va.; and a grandson.

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