The Beatles vs. the KKKBreaking News
tags: Christianity, Beatles, popular culture, Ku Klux Klan
Known to embody the antithesis to the old, conservative order, Liverpool’s favourite sons were so huge that in March 1966, frontman John Lennon made a quip to London’s Evening Standard that would change the course of the band’s career, his life, and in their immediate future. It was a comment that brought them into contact with one of the world’s most unsavoury groups.
Lennon opined: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
This quote outraged the white, conservative Christians of the western world, and it led to the band being banned ad infinitum from apartheid-era South Africa, protests and community record burnings. More significantly, though, it brought them into direct contact with the era’s most passionate group of murderous hicks, the Ku Klux Klan.
On August 11th that year, the band gave a press conference at the Astor Tower Hotel in Chicago before embarking on a mammoth US tour in support of their new album Revolver. Given the furore his comments had sparked, Lennon had become emotionally affected by the thought that he had put his family and bandmates in danger. Thus, this led to him delivering a speech at the press conference in which he apologised. He said: “I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have got away with it. I’m sorry I opened my mouth. I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti-religion. I was not knocking it. I was not saying we are greater or better.”
This apology went someway in smoothing things over, and some who had felt enraged by Lennon’s comments now felt placated. For instance, WAQY, the Alabama-based radio station, planned a bonfire of Beatles records, but it was subsequently cancelled. The Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano announced that the apology was sufficient, and the New York Times even wrote: “The wonder is that such an articulate young man could have expressed himself imprecisely in the first place.”
Given that religious extremists are, well, extreme in their views, Lennon’s comments did not even touch the sides with many, including our pointy hatted weirdos from the deep south. During parts of their tour across the country, The Beatles’ concerts were met with protests and disturbances, and the excitement had given way to tension. This led to the band quickly hating the tour, something that would have far-reaching consequences for their career.
When the band played in Detroit on August 13th, images were published in newspapers showing members of a South Carolina chapter of the Klan “crucifying” an unidentified Beatles record on a large wooden cross, which they then proceeded to burn. This set a precedent for The Beatles’ relationship with the Klan.