Euclid Beach Park, located in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood along Lake Erie, was the city’s best-known amusement park for about seven decades. Throughout its history, it was also the site of many confrontations over its policy of segregation.
Euclid Beach was segregated starting in 1895, its first season, denying African Americans use of the Dance Pavilion. African Americans were later also barred from using the skating rink and swimming beach at Euclid Park. Euclid Beach offered general admission but refused to admit African Americans on certain days of the week. This policy caused problems for the Cleveland City Schools during the 1930s and 1940s, as the school system was racially mixed, but also visited the park on promotional “free days.” In 1936, after much public debate, the School Board passed a resolution banning further picnics at the park. However, in 1940, this policy was reversed at the behest of the NAACP: the boycott had the unintended effect of forcing African American children only to visit on “pay days,” thus enriching the park’s owners. The policy of segregation at Euclid Beach was carried on for decades by the park’s management, in spite of African Americans’ being well represented (and sometimes even the majority) among the park’s patrons, especially in later years.
Euclid Beach’s segregation policies were enforced by the park’s private police force with indiscriminate brutality. The private police force maintained by Euclid Beach was not regulated by the city, and its members were not legally permitted to carry guns. In the 1940s, Euclid Beach became the site of some of the most violent racial confrontations in the city of Cleveland.
In late July 1941, Euclid Beach policemen Kenneth Baker and “Captain” McDonald brutally assaulted 16-year-old Flossie Horne. Horne lived at 2964 East 83rd Street, on the present-day site of the Kinsman Urban Farm, with her mother Bertie Horne and two brothers and three sisters. Flossie had been born in Georgia, and her family moved to Cleveland shortly after she was born. She was the eldest of her sisters, and the second oldest child in her family. Horne was assaulted for allegedly running in and out of line, possibly a case of mistaken identity with another child in her party. The park police pulled Horne out of line and pushed her onto a park bench. An “Iron Claw,” a type of spring-loaded, single wrist handcuff popular in the 1940s, was then placed on her wrist by a third unidentified man while one of the other men choked her. She was then dragged by the arm using the “Iron Claw” to a garage, where she was beaten three times on her shoulders with a blackjack and then struck multiple times “around the legs” with a strap. She was then offered a cigarette. Cleveland Police later arrived and refused to arrest Horne on the charge of “disturbing the peace.” Instead, the Police Prosecutor brought assault charges against the men.
Following World War II, the incidence of racial attacks only escalated. On August 31, 1946, Albert Luster, a Cleveland Transit System worker and member of CORE who was challenging segregation at the park, was assaulted by Euclid Beach policeman Julius Vargo. Luster suffered a fractured skull and lacerations on his head, was badly bruised, and required three stitches on his lower lip. Julius Vargo was later found guilty of assault. About one month later, while protecting an interracial group of CORE activists confronting Euclid Beach’s illegal policy of segregation at its dance pavilion (a violation of Ohio state civil rights laws of the time), off-duty Cleveland Policemen Lynn Coleman and Henry McKay were assaulted by Euclid Beach police. In the ensuing struggle, a Euclid Beach policeman shot Coleman in his leg with his own service weapon. In the aftermath of the ensuing struggle, Julius Vargo also threatened McKay with a gun.
As a result of this last shooting, the city of Cleveland passed an ordinance requiring that all amusement parks and related types of attractions be licensed. The Euclid Beach policeman responsible for the shooting Alexander R. Campbell was acquitted of violating Coleman’s Civil Rights.
When the park reopened for the 1947 season, it dodged the segregation issue by leasing the dancing pavilion to a private club, allowing it to be de-facto segregated by rejecting any African Americans who applied for membership to the club. The park’s bathing beach closed in 1951 after only a few seasons of interracial access. In 1969, Euclid Beach Park itself closed for good, a victim of the economic instability of the amusement park business amid a changing recreational market (its chief competitor, Luna Park, had closed earlier in 1939), and was sold to real estate developers. The site was largely demolished, and redeveloped. Today all that remains are the restored front gates, which stand as a memorial to the park.
- “The Argus Iron Claw.” Lynchburg Museum. August 23, 2014. https://www.lynchburgmuseum.org/blog/2014/07/the-argus-iron-claw.html.
- “Clevelander Beaten, Evicted by Private Police at Euclid Beach.” Call & Post. August 31, 1946.
- “Cops Not Licensed At Euclid Beach.” Call & Post. September 28, 1946.
- “Euclid Beach Guards Manhandle Child.” Call & Post. July 26, 1941.
- “Euclid Beach Park Riot.” Cleveland Historical. https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/562.
- “Euclid Beach Park Riot.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. https://case.edu/ech/articles/e/euclid-beach-park-riot.
- “Find Park Guard Guilty in Assault: All-Woman Jury Finds Vargo Guilty of Beach Assault.” Call & Post. November 16, 1946.
- “Finds Euclid Park Patrons Mostly Negro.” Call & Post. June 20, 1953.
- Francis, David and Diane. Cleveland Amusement Park Memories. Cleveland: Gray and Company, 2013. p. 79.
- “Jury Acquits Beach Policeman in Attack on Interracial Part.” Call & Post. March 22,1947.
- Morrow, Juanita. “Shooting Closes Euclid Beach Park.” Call & Post. September 28, 1946.
- 1940 US Census Data, ancestry.com.
- “Oops! They Got Me… Reveal Man Suffers Skull Fracture in Attack by Euclid Beach Police.” Call & Post. September 7, 1946.
- Wolcott, Victoria. Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.