Woke Lagoon | Urban Living
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Woke Lagoon



It's warm out, schools are barreling toward summer and many folk are starting to head to Lagoon amusement park for a bit of fun and celebration!

Originally called "Lake Park," Lagoon opened on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in July of 1886, near where the visitors center between Salt Lake City and Tooele is now located. Google it and you'll see old black and white photos of people dressed in bathing suits from their knees to their necks floating in the briny water, or dressed and riding on the mule-drawn merry-go-round, target shooting, bowling, roller skating in the pavilion or dancing in the open air.

The whole kit and kaboodle was eventually moved east to Farmington along the banks of a nine-acre pond that inspired the name change to "Lagoon." The first thrill ride, Shoot-the-shoots, was an early version of a giant slide with people in boats sliding down a ramp into water. In 1906, a Victorian-era carousel featuring 45 hand-carved horses was installed, which is still in operation today.

Historically, Lagoon was fun for, well ... white people. Utah never had overt Jim Crow laws forcing white and black people to stay separated; however, racial minorities still found segregation in housing, restaurants and shopping. Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald and Lionel Hampton performed at the Hotel Utah (now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building) but had to abstain from eating at the hotel restaurant, using the freight elevator and staying in private homes, not at the hotel.

It was up to businesses to allow for desegregation and Robert Freed—the owner of Lagoon and the Rainbow Rendezvous Ballroom in Salt Lake City—decided to integrate his holdings as WWII came to an end. Lagoon was closed during the war, but then got spruced up and reopened in 1946, welcoming all races. That meant everyone could swim, everyone could ride the rides and enjoy what the park offered.

Freed worked with other activists and organizations to make places open and equal for all people and in 1963, he received a Human Rights award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a lifetime membership in the organization for his advocacy for the rights of African Americans. The Freed family worked with other members of the NAACP to get Farmington City ordinances changed to make discrimination illegal and followed up by influencing other businesses in nearby cities to overturn Utah's discriminatory laws, ordinances and business practices. More than a decade later, in 1978, then-LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball ended the Utah-based faith's longstanding practice of withholding the priesthood and temple rites to African Americans.

By 1960, the African American population in Utah had grown to 4,148 people and census data showed an overall African American population of 0.47% of Utah. The state's QuickFacts page at census.gov shows that Utah is now 1.5% Black, as well as 14.4% Latino, 1.09% Native American, 1.1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 2.7% Asian, with a total population of more than 3.3 million people.