IN the 1960s, America was fighting a battle, an internal one. It was a war against the injustice and discrimination against African Americans, popularly known as the Civil Rights Movement.
But while the citizens of the country came together to put an end to the highly prevalent racial segregation, a group of foreigners stepped in to fight that battle too – a four-member group of British musicians, the beloved Beatles.
The band had already stolen hearts the world over, including the US. Weeks after their first visit in February 1964 for the Ed Sullivan Show on TV and a couple of concerts, America was gripped by Beatlemania with the Fab Four in the top five spots in the Billboard Hot 100 charts – still a record. But on their first US month-long tour in September that year, they were in for a surprise.
Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing discrimination based on race, colour, origin, religion, sex and nationality had recently been passed (just earlier that summer), The Beatles found out that their show at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida was racially segregated.
Now while The Beatles had already achieved significant fame, they were after all four Liverpudlian lads in their early twenties who certainly didn’t know then that they would become the rock icons they later did. But the four young men took a daring decision and a gutsy stand.
Happy to report that they refused to play the Florida Gator Bowl till the promoter gave an assurance that the crowd would be integrated, and all the audience members were treated equally.
In a strong statement, John Lennon said: “We never play to segregated audiences and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”
After this event, The Beatles had it written into their contracts that they would not perform for racially segregated crowds. Documents were later found for multiple tours in 1965 and 1966 where the band refused to work where the crowds were discriminated against in any manner based on race or colour.
At a time when the world’s superpower was torn by racial discrimination, this was a bold stand to take for a group of outsiders. And yet, their firm belief and conviction to perform only to a socially inclusive crowd had a positive impact on the Civil Rights Movement.
If only The Beatles could be transported to 2017’s America, once again torn by the divisive decrees of the current US president…