Fifty-years ago in February 1964 you may have been old enough to remember living through some of the historic events that occurred that year. But if you were born in 1964 – the last year of the Boomer generation – you may remember an older brother or sister, or your parents, talking about the events of that landmark year. It was a memorable one to be sure – each month had some event that made it into the history books. So, to fill you in on what some of you may have been too young to remember, here are some of the highlights of February that started that historic year off.
To begin, in January 1964, the United States was still a nation in mourning 2 months after the assassination of our President, John F. Kennedy. There was a somber cloak that lay heavy across the shoulders of the former, indomitable spirit of the U.S., and we all felt its weight. For nearly 3 years, the country seemed to dance in a whirlwind of groundbreaking social changes championed by a very young and spirited leader. After November 22, 1963, we hit a brick wall.
By January 1964 we were all just trying to adjust to the interim President, Lyndon B. Johnson, a mostly dour-faced older man who didn’t have a fraction of the Kennedy charisma or energy. But, he was our President, and we stood behind him and gave him our support as the country tried to get back up on her feet. And four musicians from Liverpool, England came along in the knick of time to give us a big, much needed shot in the arm that winter…
On February 9, 1964, The Beatles made their first United States appearance live on the Ed Sullivan show to an unprecedented 73.7 million viewers. Earlier that month on February 1, their song, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, had managed to stay in the #1 slot for 7 weeks and their first album Meet the Beatles had already “gone gold”. Needless to say, their fans were anxiously awaiting the British Invasion. Even the popular ice cream company, Baskin Robbins, named an ice cream flavor after them “Beatle Nut” on February 7.
A few days after the Ed Sullivan show on February 11th, the Beatles performed their first live U.S. concert at the Washington D.C. Coliseum. On February 19, the United Kingdom flew ½ ton of Beatles’ wigs to the United States, so every guy could have hair like John, Paul, George and Ringo. They also flew another ½ ton of Beatles print wallpaper to the U.S. so every teenage girl could surround herself with images of her new idols.
In the meantime, in February 1964, the malevolent undertone of the drum beat of war was getting louder and more clearly heard. Document 273, the official memorandum outlining the United States level of involvement in Vietnam, was signed by our new President on November 26, 1963, 4 days after President Kennedy died. I
t provided the final weight that would finally tip the scales of the previously teetering U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Now, instead of outlining our growing withdrawal from Vietnam as JFK was seeking, LBJ’s signature on 273 turned around JFK’s initiatives and the US involvement in Vietnam became history. Oddly symbolic, a soldier doll named “GI Joe” made his debut on the American scene on February 2. His popularity spread across the country to become one of the most popular “dolls” of all time.
Yet as more and more real American soldiers went off to war in Southeast Asia, the Civil Rights Movement was picking up more speed and expanding in the United States. Early in February, Black and Puerto Rican students boycotted NYC public schools; U.S. Representative Martha Griffiths got civil rights protection for women added to the Civil Rights Act; and a few weeks later on February 17, the U.S. House of Representatives accepted the Law on Civil Rights. It would be later in July 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson would finally sign into law the historic Civil Rights Act for Americans.
Some of the other interesting events that occurred that February, 50 years ago, included all-time favorite boxer Cassius Clay becoming a Muslim and changing his name to Mohammed Ali. A few weeks later on February 25, Ali would defeat reigning heavyweight Sonny Liston in a TKO; the popular song “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen was attempted to be banned as “obscenity” by then Indiana’s governor, Mathew Walsh; France and Great Britain signed an agreement to build an underwater tunnel in the English Channel between the 2 countries called, “The Chunnel”; the U.S. won gold in the Figure-Skating Division with skater Peggy Fleming; and the Italian government asked the U.S. for help keeping the Leaning Tower of Pisa from falling over as we struggled to stay upright ourselves.