While Ben Hutchins’ three sons were off fighting WWII, he kept busy by planning and building an amusement park in Lawton, Oklahoma. He hauled granite from quarries. He got steel from an abandoned oil refinery, and scoured the state for other materials, such a petrified wood and handsome stone.

Decades later, a newspaper article quoted Ben’s son, Ben Hutchins Jr., as saying, “It was something he wanted very badly. Mother said he would sit on an old bridge on 23rd Street far into the night, making plans for his welder, carpenter, and rock men so their work could proceed the next day.”

What Ben Hutchins built was fabulous. There was an indoor roller skating rink, an enormous outdoor swimming pool fed by a natural aquifer, a zoo, playgrounds, picnic areas, a train ride, a restaurant, a carousel, and the list goes on.

Doris Ann, who was the youngest of the Hutchins children, was called Doe Doe when she was little, so that’s what Ben named the place, Doe Doe Park.

In the mid-1950s I was a little boy living in Lawton, and my brother and I loved to go to Doe Doe Park and swim in the 100 by 200-foot pool. Summers were hot, but the water was cold and clear, thanks to its source.

On those lazy, fun-filled days, as I splashed about among dozens and dozens of kids and teens and moms and dads, there was something I didn’t notice. It was something a little boy wouldn’t notice, because to a little boy, people are just people. What I didn’t notice was that everyone in the pool was white.

I moved away from Lawton in the third grade, so was unaware of the growing pressure for Doe Doe Park to integrate its pool. Lawton had a sizable black population, including many black soldiers and their families at Ft. Sill, and there was no place for them to swim.

In 1964, the national Civil Rights Act was passed, and in the mid-1960s, the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] decided to get involved in the fight over Doe Doe Park.

My mother and I, though white, were members of the Oklahoma City chapter of the NAACP. I traveled down to Lawton — I was 17 — and joined in marches protesting the segregation of the pool. We raised quite a ruckus, but to no avail.

The Hutchins family refused to change their whites-only policy. They maintained that the park was privately owned and they had the right to decide who could and couldn’t use their facility. The U.S. Attorney agreed with them.

A federal lawsuit was filed in 1966, and in 1968, a federal judge ruled that the park did not fall under the provisions of the Civil Rights Act. Black people were disappointed. I, however, was crushed.

Then a stunning thing happened. Having proven legally that no one could tell him what to do with his own property, Ben Hutchins integrated the pool.

I went swimming there. Along with some of my friends.

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