Early August 1966, Christian groups, primarily in the Southern United States took to the streets to burn the sin out of their beloved Beatles records in response to John Lennon’s remark that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”
In late July, five months after its original publication, a U.S. teen mag called Datebook republished the interview with Lennon. Turning to the tried and true method of generating scandal to gin up sales, Datebook put the “We’re more popular than Jesus” part of the quote on the cover. Woo-boy. Two Birmingham DJs picked up on the quote, vowing to never play the Beatles and on August 8th, started a “Ban the Beatles” campaign. Christian groups across the South rose up to protest the Beatles who, as it happened, were just about embark on what would be their last U.S. tour. Beatles records were burned, crushed, broken. Never a group to miss out on a good bonfire, the Ku Klux Klan got involved.
James Reeb (January 1, 1927 – March 11, 1965) was an American Unitarian Universalist minister, pastor, and activist during the Civil rights movement in Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts. While participating in the Selma to Montgomery marches actions in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, he was murdered by white segregationists, dying of head injuries in the hospital two days after being severely beaten.
As a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Reeb went to Selma to join protests for African American voting rights following the attack by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies on nonviolent demonstrators on March 7, 1965. After eating dinner at an integrated restaurant on March 9, Reeb and two other Unitarian ministers, Rev. Clark Olsen and Rev. Orloff Miller, were beaten by white men with clubs for their support of African-American rights. The black hospital in Selma did not have the facilities to treat him, and the white hospital refused.
Two hours elapsed, and his condition deteriorated, before Reeb arrived at a Birmingham hospital — treatment was not available for him in much closer Montgomery — where doctors performed brain surgery. While Reeb was on his way to the hospital in Birmingham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a press conference lamenting the cowardly attack and asking all to pray for his protection. Reeb died two days later. His death resulted in a national outcry against the activities of white racists in the Deep South.
Frank Morris (1914–1964) was an American businessman who died as a result of arson to his shoe shop in Ferriday, Louisiana, a city with a history of racial violence.
On December 10, 1964, two unidentified white men set fire to the shoe repair shop owned by Frank Morris. At approximately 1:00 A.M., Morris was sleeping in a back room of the shop when he was awakened by the sound of glass breaking. Morris opened the front door of the shop, where he was met by two men in their 30’s, one of whom was armed with a shotgun. The men broke multiple shop windows and proceeded to “spread a flammable liquid around the outside of the shop, and evidence indicates that the subjects may have spread the flammable liquid inside of the shop.” After one of the subjects lit a match, the shop caught fire; Morris was still present in the building. He was able to escape the shop, but sustained burns on 100% of his body. Morris was taken to the hospital by two Ferriday police officers and was able to speak to FBI investigators. In three interviews conducted by FBI investigators, Morris stated that, “he saw a man pouring gasoline around the place (…) [and] another man had a shotgun. Morris entered a coma two days later, and died on December 14, 1964.
James Earl Chaney (May 30, 1943 – June 21, 1964), from Meridian, Mississippi, was one of three American civil rights workers who was murdered during Freedom Summer by members of the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The others were Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York City.
Chaney and fellow civil rights workers Schwerner and Goodman were killed near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were investigating the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church, which had been a site for a CORE Freedom School. In the wake of Schwerner and Chaney’s voter registration rallies, parishioners had been beaten by whites. They accused the Sheriff’s Deputy, Cecil Price, of stopping their caravan and forcing the deacons to kneel in the headlights of their own cars, while white men beat them with rifle butts. The same whites who beat them were also identified as having burned the church.
Price arrested Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner for an alleged traffic violation and took them to the Neshoba County jail. They were released that evening, without being allowed to telephone anyone. On the way back to Meridian, they were stopped by patrol lights and two carloads of KKK members on Highway 19, then taken in Price’s car to another remote rural road. The men approached then shot and killed Schwerner, then Goodman, both with one shot in the heart and finally Chaney with three shots, after chain-whipping and castrating him. They buried the young men in an earthen dam nearby.