1964: No Question About It, The Times Were A-Changin’

“And don’t criticize what you can’t understand…” — Bob Dylan

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Open Shutter Light Painting, by the author.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
— the prescient Bob Dylan
First performed live: 26 Oct 1963

I just finished watching the American Experience, a documentary about 1964, the year America split. It was a year of racial conflicts, generational conflicts, gender conflicts and political conflicts. It was a year in which significant changes were beginning to take place, foreshadowing the turbulence to come. What follows are some notes I jotted as the program covered events from January to December of that year.

“People who grew up with outhouses in their back yards are now taking their children to vacations on a lake,” said Rick Pearlstein in the documentary. This was my experience precisely.

When the year opened, it had only been five weeks since the Kennedy assassination. LBJ had only been sworn into office weeks earlier, but at the outset he was determined to take advantage of his new position of power, declaring an unconditional war on poverty in his January 8 State of the Union address.

On January 20 my family moved from Cleveland to New Jersey, an incident without any media notice whatsoever, but it was a move that made a significant impact on my life personally.

18 days later, on February 7, the Beatles planted their feet on American soil bringing a sense of joy and hopefulness, while simultaneously sowing seeds of rebellion in a somewhat harmless way as boys began avoiding barbershops. Parents didn’t like it.

The documentary showed a photo shoot that brought together the Beatles and Cassius Clay. Clay, who would soon become a Muslim and change his name to Muhammed Ali, was not yet champion of the world. The Beatles’ handlers sought to pair them up with Sonny Liston, but Liston was too serious and declined the distraction. Cassius Clay found it to be just another audacious “day in the life.”

The Clay vs Liston fight took place on Feb 25, and we all know what happened next. Clay, who had won Olympic Gold in 1960, scored an upset.

1964 was a presidential election year which ultimately pit Barry Goldwater against LBJ. Goldwater’s rise was considered the birth of the modern conservative movement.

The World’s Fair in New York was given a brief nod, in part for having been the launching pad for the Mustang. Many people remember the Unisphere as symbol of the World’s Fair. My neighbor’s father was a union welder who worked on the construction of that iconic symbol. What many people forget is how it was a two-year World’s Fair. Because of our proximity, we hosted a family reunion in our new home, which became a springboard for many relatives to attend the Fair.

The documentary zeroed in on the impact youth were beginning to make. More kids, and more kids with Money. The theme of Youth would be woven into the fabric of this documentary several times.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land

And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

It was in 1964 that President Johnson introduced that new phrase, The Great Society, which included a promise to end racial injustice and bring an end to poverty. Civil rights protests were continuing in the South where activists were striving to register black voters. There was new legislation to end Jim Crow rules in the South, but efforts to pass a Civil Rights Bill in Congress were met with the longest filibuster in U.S. history, two months in duration. Ultimately the revolutionary Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

The documentary included snippets of young fans’ extreme emotional craziness for Ringo, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans and Ken Kesey’s LSD-infused madcap cross-country adventure with the Merry Pranksters.

Freedom Summer in 1964 brought manifold college students to the Deep South as part of the effort to end racial discrimination. On June 21 three young Civil Rights workers — Andrew Goodman, James Cheney, Mickey Schwerner — came to Mississippi as volunteers in this effort. When they came South they had been warned to be careful about being out after dark. When they got arrested, purportedly for speeding, they were held and then deliberately released after dark, never to be seen again alive.

The Republican National Convention took place at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. In his acceptance of the nomination he famously stated, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…” Mad Magazine would soon feature a mushroom cloud in one of its cartoons expressing concern about what this really could mean.

“Summer’s right for Dancing in the Streets” — Martha Reeves and the Vandellas hit song played against scenes of violence in the streets. It was apparent something was cooking… The times were a-changin’.

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident put Viet Nam on the front page of newspapers. In truth, Johnson and high government officials distorted the facts in order to escalate his powers. Johnson retaliated against the North Viet Nam by seeking and obtaining from Congress a blank check to expand the war in Viet Nam. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or the Southeast Asia Resolution, Pub.L. 88–408, 78 Stat. 384, enacted August 10, 1964, was a joint resolution that the United States Congress passed on August 7, 1964, in response to the (bogus) Gulf of Tonkin incident.

This legislation was of historical significance because it gave U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson authorization, without a formal declaration of war by Congress, for the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Under Lyndon Johnson there was an emerging sense of betrayal by our own government, — faultlines around politics, race, gender, and the definition of status quo began to appear. When the Warren Report declared Lee Harvey Oswald to be the sole gunman in the Kennedy Assassination it only exacerbated our sense of distrust in our government.

The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley led to a campus demonstration that would foreshadow many years of student protests. In Berkeley 800 demonstrators were arrested. Though charges were dropped it was labeled as the beginning of the Student Movement, which would shape American politics for years to come.

The Johnson vs Goldwater election in November brought two very different visions of the future into stark contrast. Johnson made this promise: “Everyone can have a job. Every kid can have an education… in time we can have the Great Society we’re all entitled to.”

Goldwater came back with: “We can prevent depression. We can have full employment. I’ve heard their pipe dreams for the past 30 years and I’ve never seen one of them come true.” Johnson took his landslide as a mandate, but 27 million people voted for Goldwater and this became the foundation of a conservative movement that would find resurgence. Young Republicans regrouped…

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast

The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Young people would grow to be a force. Sam Cooke’s hit song at the end of ’64 announced “Change is gonna come…” The events of 1964 revealed a new mix of idealism and outrage. Though hindsight is 20/20, very few people at the time really saw what was about to come down.

If you get a chance, it’s a surprisingly insightful assessment of that year in our history, which began 55 years ago today…

Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com

Written by

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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