On its face, the annual White House Easter Egg Roll is an occasion for the commingling of adorable children and fluffy bunnies—of either the four-legged or the full-grown-adult-in-costume variety. But it’s hard to imagine anything taking place on White House grounds without the undercurrent of politics, even if the majority of attendees, three-feet-high and preoccupied with rolling eggs, remain unaware.
The Easter Egg Roll has twice been a venue for conversations about inclusion and diversity. In 2006, around 100 gay and lesbian couples and their children attended the event, despite the shouts of a small group of protesters, to make a statement about the different kinds of families that make up America. During President Obama’s first year in office, he formally invited gay and lesbian families to participate.
More than half a century earlier, during his first year in office, President Eisenhower restored the tradition after a twelve-year hiatus. On that day in 1953, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was disturbed to see that black children were peering in at the festivities from beyond the gates, instead of taking part. The following year, she invited African-American familes to join for the first time since the tradition officially began in 1878, a small but symbolic blip on the path to integration.
But on that April morning, attendees were mostly focused on figuring out what, exactly, an egg roll was. As a TIME briefing reported, “No one seemed to know what to do at an egg roll. Some bowled eggs across the greensward; others tossed them high in the air with occasional disasters.” The first aid station, consequently, was quite busy.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.