I stood looking at the blueprints of the Armory and the surrounding area. That’s when the light bulbs went on. The Armory had been built next to the Riverside Amusement Park.
I first learned about the Riverside Amusement Park at the Ruby Bridges exhibit at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. The exhibit included a placard about the amusement park…and its segregation.
I was so stunned with my realization that I started to share it with a guy standing near me. I wondered out loud when the amusement park closed. As fate would have it, the guy actually grew up in Indianapolis near the park. He thought that it closed in the late 1960s. (It actually closed in 1970.) He shared that he remembered seeing remnants of the rides in the 1970s.
And sadly, he confirmed what I learned at the museum. The amusement park was only open to African-Americans one day each season…the so-called Milk Cap days. On the other days of the season, the residents of the neighborhood were barred from going.
This wasn’t always the case. The amusement park open in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1919 with a change of ownership that the Riverside Amusement Park was for whites only.
What an incredibly sad history! And an equally sad indictment on Indianapolis and Indiana.
Thomas Taggert, whose memorial stands crumbling in the Riverside Park, was an important local political at the turn of the century who opposed the KKK. However, even he couldn’t buck the tide. Not long after the amusement park turned whites only, discrimination in Indiana increased.
The 1920s saw the rise of the Klan in Indiana (and the deflating of the Klan following the arrest and trial of the Grand Wizard for kidnapping, raping, and cannibalizing Madge Oberholtzer).
In the 1924 gubernatorial race, Taggert urged the front-runner to oppose the KKK. McCulloch did and went from being the front-runner to losing the race.
The 1920s also saw the pinnacle in school segregation in the form of the Crispus Attucks High School. In a poetic twist of fate, the school ultimately nurtured and prepared African Americans for success in life. Many students who attended Crispus Attucks went on to become leaders in their fields—in spite of the reasons that the school was built.
The amusement park stopped its white-only policy in the 1960s, partly it seems out of economic necessity and partly due to protests. Ultimately it was too late for the amusement park, the site of good memories for some and a reminder of discrimination for others.