Civil Rights: The Flop

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It was a wild-eyed, harebrained, crackpot scheme, and in the end it was a total flop. But before the end, it tried the patience of national, state and city officials, wasted taxpayers' money for protective measures, set a city of 8,000,000 on edge, and hurt the cause of civil rights.

The idea was to ruin the opening of the New York World's Fair by stalling cars on the heavily trafficked highways and bridges leading to the Flushing Meadows site. It had a certain demonic appeal — New York is, after all, a city where a single flat tire can ordinarily cause a miles-long jam-up of horn-pounding, curse-shouting motorists.

Behind this prickly little plot was the dissident Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality. Their leader was a 22-year-old Negro named Isiah Brunson, an auto mechanic who appeared in Brooklyn from South Carolina a couple of years ago and before long started stirring up civil rights strife.

His top lieutenant was a Brooklyn white man, Arnold Goldwag, 26, a chain smoking ex-Brooklyn College student with a fertile but peculiar imagination.

It was he who dreamed up the idea of getting slum residents to dump their garbage on the steps of Brooklyn's Borough Hall. Also involved was Brooklyn Negro Minister Milton A. Galamison, 41, who tried to paralyze the New York City school system with two boycotts early this year.

More responsible civil rights advocates publicly washed their hands of the Brooklyn militants. CORE'S National Director James Farmer, himself a rough-tough fighter who had plans of his own for demonstrations on the fairgrounds, suspended Brunson's chapter from the national organization. The Queens district attorney got a court injunction against the stall-in. President Johnson and key members of the U.S. Senate warned that demonstrations of that kind would serve only to stiffen opposition to civil rights progress.

Dos & Don'ts. But Brunson and his group kept right on with their plan. Stall-in motorcades from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Chicago were said to be on the way to New York. Brunson boasted that no fewer than 2,000 cars would stop dead on the highways. His demonstrators would slow down ticket lines at the fair by paying 199 pennies for the $2 admission. The city subway system would be paralyzed by 6 a.m., and the major highway approaches to the fair by 7:30 a.m. An airplane would fly over the fair and drop thousands of leaflets protesting discrimination, and a Harlem contingent would collect hundreds of live rats in the slums and release them into the crowds as President Johnson spoke at the fairgrounds.

Just before the opening, Galamison proposed a list of dos and don'ts: "Just leave your car and walk off. You don't have to run out of gas. Simply decide you want to get some fresh air, or you could complain that your car is overheating. You could lock bumpers with a CORE car in front of you."

On the Subway. New York officials laid their own plans accordingly. Police leaves were canceled, cops and tow trucks were assigned stations along the highways and bridges. Transit Authority police, who guard the subway system, were given posts in key trains and subway stations.

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