RACE, RELIGION + SOCIAL JUSTICE

During Black History Month, looking at how Lagoon desegregated

Feb 10, 2023, 6:00 PM

Black History Month is a good time to learn about the Lagoon amusement park, and how it was one of ...

Julianne Barney rides the Paratrooper with her grandfather, Jerald Hatch, at Lagoon in Farmington on Monday, June 15, 2020. During Black History Month, Lagoon is remembered as one of the first amusement parks in America to desegregate in the 1960s. (Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

(Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

FARMINGTON, Utah — The Lagoon amusement park has a story to tell during Black History Month. Namely that it was one of the first amusement parks in the nation to desegregate in the 1960s. 

Twenty years earlier in the 1940s, the park only allowed Black people access to the Ferris wheel and bumper cars, but not the more popular Patio Gardens or swimming pool. 

After its closure due to World War II, the park re-opened with civil-rights activist Robert E. Freed as its main manager. He and his brothers hated Lagoon’s discriminatory policies, so they continually fought to make Lagoon inclusive.

“Lagoon was for everyone, and because of local ordinances and just that the Freed’s didn’t own the park, there were certain attractions that were segregated. The swimming pool being one, and the dance hall being another. And the Freeds absolutely hated it,” said Lagoon spokesperson Adam Leishman about the park’s role in Black history. 

The ordinances were so strict that even when famous Black entertainers like Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald came to perform at Lagoon’s Patio Gardens, Black visitors weren’t allowed to enter the center to watch. 

Then, in 1965, the Freeds won their case and Lagoon became one of the nation’s first amusement parks to open their gates to citizens of all races. 

Five years later in 1970, Robert E. Freed became the first Utahn to win the lifetime achievement award from the NAACP. 

Now, the park has grown to become the home of ten large roller coasters, 38 carnival games, a large waterpark, the historical Pioneer Village, and two original shows. 

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During Black History Month, looking at how Lagoon desegregated