Disney’s Influence on the Modern Theme Park and the Codification of Colorblind Racism in the American Amusement Industry

  • Jill Anne MorrisEmail author


Walt Disney opened Disneyland park in 1955 amidst a sea of social unrest that soon led to race riots at other parks across the country. Disneyland was never officially segregated, like many northern parks (and especially those in the west), and never had to be integrated. However, it began a period of development, expansion, and change in American amusement that was underwritten by racial unrest, the closure of many traditional parks, and the development of “theme parks” away from urban centers. In this essay Jill Morris argues that Disney profited off an economic system that valorized the white dollar and gaze and would forever codify the American theme park as much a colorblind white space as the traditional American amusement park that came before it. The essay especially focuses on the introduction of the single, flat entrance fee and asserts that the institution of pay-one-price and gated park models in the 1960s, beginning with Disneyland, codified the tourist gaze as white and middle class, while being able to claim to support desegregation. This sort of colorblind racism continues in the design of parks today, creating many spaces that are supposedly socially progressive while upholding the morals of an earlier America.


Disneyland Class Race Theme parks Economics 


  1. Adams, Judith. 1991. The American Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills (Twayne’s Evolution of American Business Series). New York: Twayne’s Publishers.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, J. 1960. Glen Echo Picketing to be Resumed. The Washington Post, Times Herald, July 8. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, Michael K., Martin Carnoy, Elliott Currie, Troy Duster, David B. Oppenheimer, Marjorie M. Shultz, and David Wellman. 2003. Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society. Berkeley: University of North California Press.Google Scholar
  4. Cook, Richard, and Deborah Lange. 2000. Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival. Glen Echo, MD: Bethesda Communications Group.Google Scholar
  5. Fjellman, Stephen. 1992. Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Fletcher, Patsy Mose. 2015. Historically African American Leisure Destinations Around Washington, D.C. New York: The History Press.Google Scholar
  7. Kasson, John. 1978. Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century. New York: Hill & Wang.Google Scholar
  8. Kelsen, David. 2016. During the 1960s, Disneyland was Considered the Only Place in OC Safe for Black Tourists. OC Weekly, September 16.
  9. Krosnick, Brian. 2015. 3 Reasons Why Disney Admission Prices Just Keep on Rising (and Why It’s Not as Bad as It Seems), February 23.
  10. Mangels, William. 1952. The Outdoor Amusement Industry. New York: Vantage Press.Google Scholar
  11. Prentice, Claire. 2014. The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century. New York: Amazon Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Register, Woody. 2001. The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Rydell, Robert W. 1984. All the World’s a Fair. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Schaefer, Richard T. 2008. The Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Sullivan, David. Coney Island History: The Story of George Tilyou and Steeplechase Park. Heart of Coney Island. Accessed 2 Oct. 2018.
  16. ———. LaMarcus Adna Thompson’s Scenic Railways at Coney Island. Luna Park, the Heart of Coney Island. Accessed 2 Oct. 2018.
  17. Urry, John, and Jonas Larsen. 2011. The Tourist Gaze 3.0. New York: SAGE Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Van Gompel, Greg. 2017. Excelsior Amusement Park: Playland of the Twin Cities. Stroud, Gloucestshire: The History Press.Google Scholar
  19. Wolcott, Victoria. 2012. Race, Riots and Roller Coasters: The Struggle Over Segregated Recreation in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Frostburg State UniversityFrostburgUSA

Personalised recommendations