View Full Version : The Beatles and 1964 American segregation

Jan 30, 2003, 02:40 PM

When the Fabs said that they wouldn`t play in front of segregated audiences, they gave pop music a new-found social conscience. By Bill DeMain for MOJO

“We will not appear unless Negroes are allowed to sit anywhere,” announced The Beatles in a press statement on September 6, 1964. Halfway through a 23-city US tour – their first – the group was looking ahead to a date in Jacksonville, Florida, where they`d heard that blacks were confined to the balconies or upper tiers at public events such as concerts.

The next day, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville`s daily paper, ran a disparaging editorial entitled “Beatlemania Is A Mark Of A Frenetic Era”. The group wqas called “a passing fad, whose appearance on the scene was perfectly timed and fitted to the mores, morals and ideals of a fast-paced, troubled time”. Their sound was described as “high-pitch monotone”. There was no mention of segregation, but it was clear that those in the news media hardly considered these “hirsute scourges of Liverpool” intelligent enough to comment on social issues. By today`s standards, their pronouncement was taken about as seriously as N`Sync`s Lance Bass saying he wanted to join the space program.

The music community in America felt differently. “At that time, no-one that I knew of really took the initiative to address any kind of social issues,” says Mark Lindsay, lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders. “I can see the Beatles coming over here and being assailed by this weird, unfair policy of segregation. They were not just good musicians. They had intellect. They spoke up.”

“They were really the first group to have the power to do that,” says American singer Brian Hyland. “They used that platform really well. They could`ve just let it ride and not said anything about it. It took a lot of courage.”

“We were, in many respects, just these goofy white boys,” says US 1960s sensation Lou Christie of the teen idol-type acts of the time. “We weren`t allowed to be seen with a cigarette in our hands. We had press people watching who we went out with. The Beatles had a different attitude. They were more aggressive, they were funny and they were articulate. The minute they came to America, they literally put a halt to everything that was previously happening [in pop music].”

All three of these singers were part of Dick Clark`s Caravan Of Stars, an interracial tour crossing paths with the Fabs in an America that was churning with racial tensions (“We were like a freedom bus”, recalls Christie). Protesters were marching in northern cities from Seattle to Baltimore, demanding better jobs, schooling and housing for blacks. In the South, the situation was more desperate. Blacks were denied basic rights such as a place at a lunch counter or a seat in the front of a city bus. In July, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act, banning discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

But old prejudices die hard. In the weeks after, riots broke out in Harlem and Rochester. Black churches, homes and businesses were burned in Mississippi. And there were countless incidences of violence throughout cities in the South, including Jacksonville.

Jacksonville native Don Walton, then a 16-year-old Beatle fan who was front row centre at the show, recalls, “There were some problems in our city, but we were never hardcore like Mississippi or South Carolina. Quite frankly, I know there were black kids in the audience. It was an open air concert too, which might`ve made it easier to have an integrated concert. With the size of the Gator Bowl, I don`t think the authorities were worried about the small percentage that might`ve been interested that were black.”

Opening the show was The Exciters, a black R&B vocal quartet from New York, best known for their hit Tell Him. Though WAPE, the local radio station promoting the concert, chose the support act, The Beatles were most likely pleased. “I don`t think people connected The Beatles with their love of R&Bm the way we all do now,” says Walton. “It was a big influence.”

In all of the press conferences they did on the `64 tour, they were certainly vocal about their reverence for black musicians. Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino were always at the top of their major influences (their `64 set list included Roll Over Beethoven and Long Tall Sally.) When asked what they enjoyed listening to, they regularly answered, “American soul music, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Chuck Jackson…” And later the same year, they invited Mary Wells to join them for a UK tour.

“The Beatles were the first white artists to ever admit that they grew up and honed themselves on black music,” says Motown main man Smokey Robinson. “I loved they fact that they did that, that they were honest and said, ´We listened to black people and this is how we groomed ourselves, and we listened to Motown`. They in fact recorded some Motown songs. I loved the fact that they did that.”

The Beatles` human rights crusading would continue until the group`s end and right on through their solo careers. Paul McCartney summed up their position when he told a reported in 1966, “We weren`t into prejudice. We were always very keen on mixed-race audiences. With that being our attitude, shared by all the group, we never wanted to play South Africa or any places where blacks would be separated. It wasn`t out of any goody-goody thing; we just thought, Why should you separate black people from white? That`s just stupid, isn`t it?”.

Jan 30, 2003, 03:11 PM
Thanks for posting that, Wolf.

Jan 30, 2003, 03:49 PM
Thank you, Wolf.

Knowing the Beatles were never bigots makes you respect them all the more.

Jan 30, 2003, 04:26 PM
Amen to that!

We find that in hindsight, and the more time that passes, just how significance the Beatles' were becomes more and more apparent.

Jan 30, 2003, 04:32 PM
Good one! graemlins/thumbsup2.gif

Probably the best explanation of why they were such a class act.

Jan 30, 2003, 04:39 PM
Whoah Wolf...thanks so much for posting this article-very intense indeed! But it's true...the lads use to listen to American soul & RB music...

Where do you think Paul got his screaming & howling from- non other than "Little Richard" graemlins/rocknroll1.gif

And the motown tracks they recorded early on ie...
and MUCH MORE!!!

Jan 30, 2003, 07:18 PM
Good article! I remember reading a blurb ages and ages ago about the Beatles making that request for their show in Florida, but I'd never known all the details until now. They are a class act indeed!

Thanks for posting it! graemlins/thumbsup1.gif

Jan 30, 2003, 07:26 PM
Just a little bit more evidence that the Beatles are the best! images/icons/smile.gif

Jan 30, 2003, 08:00 PM
images/icons/grin.gif *

Makes me like them more.

Feb 01, 2003, 08:26 AM
I've heard for some time that the Beatles refused to play to segregated audiences. It does indeed give me a greater respect for them. They were among the first to display a social conscience and tackle controversial issues, as well as to give credit to the black pioneers of rock and roll.

Thanks for posting this, Wolf. I always enjoy the articles you share with us. graemlins/smile1.gif

Feb 08, 2003, 02:12 PM
If anybody cares for more stories on the early Beatles like that, be sure to check out MOJO magazine`s latest Beatles special on Beatlemania. It`s excellent!

Feb 08, 2003, 02:18 PM
Thanks for the info, Wolf. graemlins/thumbsup2.gif

[ Feb 08, 2003, 03:21 PM: Message Edited By: bearkat77 ]

Feb 12, 2003, 05:57 PM
Yay for them!That pleases me a lot! images/icons/grin.gif