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President Johnson Opens World’s Fair

Apr. 22, 1964 - The New York World’s Fair was opened by President Johnson on schedule today, despite the double obstacle of foul weather and civil disobedience.

Massive demonstrations that had been threatened by civil rights groups outside and inside the fair failed to materialize. A few hundred Negro and white activists did, however, distract and disturb the crowds during the colorful premiere of the great exposition. A band of youthful pickets and sit-ins assailed President Johnson with rude shouts when he dedicated the Federal Pavilion.

The grim, November-like weather combined with the fear that integration activists might block access to the fair undoubtedly kept thousands away. Attendance was 92,646, with 63,791 paid. An attendance of at least 250,000 had been forecast.

Wide publication of a threat to pull emergency cords on subway trains apparently had alarmed many. Yet there was only one serious attempt to stop a train. Similarly, the forecast of a paralyzing “stall-in” evaporated: traffic moved smoothly. By evening, about 300 persons had been taken into custody outside and inside the fair grounds.

As President Johnson spoke, demonstrators brandished placards, and their shouts of “Freedom Now!” sometimes drowned out the strong voice of the President.

“We do not try to mask our national problems,” said Mr. Johnson. “We do not try to disguise our imperfections or cover up our failures. No other nation in history has done so much to correct its flaws.”

The President’s forecast of “a world in which all men are equal” drew loud, derisive laughter from the pickets.

As soon as the President had left, police wagons drove up, and the sit-ins were flushed from the shrubbery. They had to be dragged into the wagons. The opening-day crowd tried to ignore the pickets, but they seemed to be all over the fair. Some of the demonstrators blocking stairways at the New York State Pavilion were jumped on and stepped on by visitors before they were dragged away by the police.

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