Black History Month: Jane Pittman drinking fountain in downtown Rochester

Black History Month

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) —  The Miss Jane Pittman Drinking Fountain sits right in downtown Rochester, representing a symbolic time in our history when drinking fountains were separated based on race.

Midge Thomas is the mastermind behind the Jane Pittman Drinking Fountain in downtown Rochester. It all started when Thomas was sick looking for water to take her medication.

“I went to a restaurant to get some water to take the pill and the waitress charged me 10 cents she said well you have to pay for the cup, the water is free but you have to pay for the cup,” said Thomas.

Thomas is the widow of Dr. Freddie Thomas, a civil rights leader in Rochester.

After his death, Mrs. Thomas founded the Dr. Freddie Thomas foundation, and members of that foundation helped raise the money to build it.

“The members thought about, the fountain must mean more than just having water. We ended up discussing that and we came up with the idea that remember, that water was not free to everybody in our history and we thought about Miss Jane Pittman, who drank from a fountain in Louisiana that was labeled for whites only,” said Thomas.

The fountain was unveiled in 1987, and more than 7,000 people attended the unveiling, with children, police, and even Thomas herself taking the first sips from that fountain.

The three-headed fountain is very unique, with each spicket representing something different.

“One spicket represents humanity, and the other spicket represents liberty and the other represents equality and this is what America’s all about,” said Thomas.

Not only is the meaning behind the fountain unique, but so is the location with Liberty Pole Plaza being selected. The city of Rochester says the liberty pole plaza is the best place for this historic fountain.

“This is the center of our city right, this is the best place for it. It’s somewhere where everybody, the young the old, downtown living, suburbanites they can come downtown and they can see exactly what this project meant and what it means to the city and to the area,” said Anthony Orphe, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services with the city of Rochester.

Rochester celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fountain in 2014.

Today, the fountain is still in good shape and Thomas hopes people walking will take notice of what the fountain stands for.

“This might be an opportunity for the children to learn something about American history and use this Jane Pittman Fountain where they can go have a drink and be a part of that,” said Thomas.

The Miss Jane Pittman Drinking Fountain is currently inside for the winter months, but will be back on display for the summer.

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