A few weeks ago, Paul McCartney voiced his support for George Floyd protests and expressed his dismay through a Facebook post saying, “I feel sick and angry that here we are, almost 60 years later, and the world is in shock at the horrific scenes of the senseless murder of George Floyd at the hands of police racism, along with the countless others that came before. I want justice for George Floyd’s family, I want justice for all those who have died and suffered. Saying nothing is not an option.”
This isn’t the first time Paul or The Beatles have spoken in defense of Civil Rights. In his interview to GQ, Paul speaking about the stimulus powering their iconic song, ‘Blackbird’ said, “I was sitting with my acoustic guitar, and I’d heard about the civil rights troubles in Alabama [where Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in 1955], Mississippi [where three civil rights activists were executed in 1964], Little Rock in particular. So that was in my mind, and I just thought, It would be really good if I could write something that, if it ever reached any of the people going through those problems, it might kinda give them a little bit of hope. So I wrote ‘Blackbird.’”
“One of the nice things about music is that you know a lot of the people listening to you are going to take seriously what you’re saying in the song,” McCartney added. “I’m very proud of the fact that the Beatles’ output is always really pretty positive … it’s always ‘Let It Be,’ ‘Hey Jude,’ ‘Blackbird.’ It’s hopefully a good message. Hopefully, people out there will listen to it and think, ‘It’s not just me alone going through this … it’s also something I can fix.”
The “Blackbird” story came full circle when he posed for a photograph with Elizabeth and Thelma: “Incredible to meet two of the Little Rock Nine — pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration for ‘Blackbird.’”
Incredible to meet two of the Little Rock Nine–pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration for Blackbird. pic.twitter.com/QrnOQnqrFX— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) May 1, 2016
The iconic Liverpool band has raised their voice against racial segregation on other occasions as well. Showing their support for the US civil rights movement, The Beatles had refused to perform to a ‘segregated audience’ concert at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, back in 1964. As the pressure of the band’s act of resistance threatened to boil over, officials at the concert eventually allowed the segregated audience to merge together. For the uninitiated, segregating the audience implied that people of colour could only get to take seating that was far back from the stage, and separate from privileged white people. Black patrons would be forcibly segregated from whites, assigned the worse seats farthest away from the stage, and maybe subjected to a differentiating atmosphere if they showed up. Such segregated shows divided their audience without consent.
In his book Tomorrow-land, Joseph Tirella writes, the Beatles were world-famous, outsider stars who had arrived on the American shores preaching the gospel of rock ‘n’ roll; and unlike the racially segregated Americans, the Beatles didn’t see or hear the difference between Elvis and Chuck Berry or between the Everly Brothers or The Marvelettes.
On one hand, the world was influencing what the Beatles were going through, and what music they were creating, what songs they were writing, and on the other, the fabulous four were influencing the way the world looked at things. They left behind a legacy that night, by standing up against institutional racism. Major political changes were occurring in the country which would have happened with or without The Beatles taking a stand for unification. But they took a stand nonetheless. Like Paul McCartney said in his post, “saying nothing is not an option.”