Fifty years ago, the World’s Fair opened on a former garbage-dump in Queens, drawing over 50 million people. For most of those attendees, race relations was probably the last thing on their mind, which is exactly why protesters crashed the party, repeatedly, and made the Fair a battleground for civil rights.
Groups like the Congress for Racial Equality organized demonstrations, resulting in hundreds of arrests. Some were there to protest the discriminatory hiring policies of companies exhibiting at the Fair, or to goad President Johnson, who spoke at the opening, into helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Opposition to the act was intense. On March 30, just three weeks before the Fair opened, Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) declared during a filibuster, ”We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.”
But it wasn’t enough. The Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress, and in July, LBJ signed it into law.
World’s Fair New York 1964
photo by Garry Winogrand