Tales of the fountain, Part 1: The fountain and the riot

Most of us have probably, at one point or another, enjoyed time in the soothing presence of the fountain between the Memorial Library and the Centennial Student Union.

This fountain that so many of us have enjoyed has an interesting history. It was originally installed at the 1964/1965 World’s Fair held in New York City. The angular metal sculpture that now sits in the middle of the fountain was created in 1975 by former faculty member Roger Johnson.

When I was researching the 1964/1965 World’s Fair held in New York City, it struck me as the most quintessential American World’s Fair ever. First, the organizers’ bid to have the fair recognized by the Bureau of International Expositions was rejected, leading them to decide to hold the fair without the endorsement of the BIE.

Furthermore, the 1964/1965 NYC World’s Fair’s motto was “Peace Through Understanding,” but it was seen as anything but peaceful by the Congress of Racial Equality, which organized multiple protests of the racial injustices they felt the fair was promoting.

According to a flier distributed by CORE, “the ugly specter of bigotry and discrimination throughout this nation, makes this world’s fair both ludicrous and hypocritical. The millions of dollars it cost must be measured against the 22 million American negroes living in the agony of fifth-class citizenship.”

The 1964/1965 World’s Fair also played an indirect but significant role in LGBTQ history. In order to clean up the city in preparation for the fair, then Mayor Robert F. Wagner ordered a crackdown on gay bars and increased other efforts to persecute gender and sexual minorities.

At the time the NYC World’s Fair was taking place, it was illegal in New York State to serve those known to be homosexual. There were also laws in place to prevent people from dressing against the gender society had labeled them with.

This increased persecution by the city in advance of the World’s Fair continued until June 28, 1969, when the patrons of the Stonewall Inn started what would become known as the Stonewall Riots during a police raid on the bar.

The Stonewall Riots that started that fateful night lasted six days and gave birth to what is considered the contemporary LGBTQ civil rights movement. Today, LGBTQ pride celebrations are held across the country and around the world in June to commemorate the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fighting back against the police.

Tune in next week to Tales of the fountain: Part 2: The bystander fountain or everything your psychology professor got wrong about the murder of Kitty Genovese.

Write to Jeremy Redlien at jeremy.redlien@mnsu.edu

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