It’s the weeks of March 17th and March 24th, 1966. The #1 song both weeks is a rather noxious (and infamous) pro-war song, “The Ballad of the Green Berets”, which actually ended up as the top single for the entire year, in no small part because it was co-written and sung by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, who tended to perform the song on television is full dress uniform. Thankfully, the Top 10 had two heavy hitters: “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas & the Papas (which would actually tie “Green Berets” as the top single of the year in some charts) and Nancy Sinatra’s iconic “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” (which solidified Sinatra not only as one of the biggest sex symbols of the decade, but as a feminist icon). Also in the Top 10 were Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” and lesser hits by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and debuting on the charts were Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ signature “Spanish Flea”, “Shapes of Things” by The Yardbirds, Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man”, the US theme to the British spy show Danger Man (which aired here as Secret Agent), and “Caroline, No” by Brian Wilson, in anticipation of The Beach Boys’ upcoming album (which we’ll most certainly be discussing in the near future). So, while the top song in the country makes me wretch, there was a ton of incredible music out there to listen to.
Also in the news: On the 11th, former Harvard Professor Timothy Leary was convicted under the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 for smuggling marijuana into the US, with a sentence of 30 years and a fine of $30,000 (which is north of $219,000 in today’s dollars). On the 16th, the Gemini 8 docked with the unmanned Agena target vehicle in orbit, the first such maneuver in space. Two days later, in a gruesome incident not revealed until after German reunification a quarter century later, two East German boys, Jörg Hartmann and Lothar Schleusener, were shot and killed when they snuck around near the Berlin Wall after dark. And lastly, on the 19th, an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Astrodome saw the first test of AstroTurf, an artificial grass substitute that allowed for domed stadiums like the Astrodome to host pro sporting events.
I’ve posted about the Civil Rights Movement, but the focus was mostly on the South and the plight of African Americans. However, out West, there was another massive fight against racism. Then, as now, a substantial portion of the labor force in this part of the country is Hispanic, particularly in the areas of agriculture and manual labor. Additionally, Filipino Americans also comprise a substantial (if far less discussed) portion of the labor force in these industries out West. Not shockingly, both ethnic groups were not only exploited, but they were pitted against each other in order to destabilize their efforts. (Typically, it was Hispanic labor that was used to break up the efforts of Filipino American labor efforts, often using migrant workers from Mexico under the Bracero Program, a nasty bit of business designed largely to keep Mexico from turning Communist from 1942 to 1964.)
By the early ’60s, there were two unions in play: the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which was a Filipino American organization founded by Larry Itliong that was chartered by the AFL-CIO, and the National Farm Workers Association, which was Hispanic in makeup and led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. The separate groups were just that-separate-until the Delano grape strike. The strike, which started on September 8th, 1965, was joined by the NFWA eight days later (on Mexican Independence Day, no less), but Chávez truly took the lead on the issue on March 17th when he marched from Delano to Sacramento (which was 340 miles away). The march garnered a ton of attention for the cause of the two unions, who shortly after merged to become the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.
However beneficial the march was for civil and labor rights for Hispanic immigrants, it also signaled the death knell for the influence of the Filipino interests. The Hispanic American community was just too large for any other result to happen, and Larry Itliong left the UFW in the early ’70s, eventually dying in 1977 (cementing his obscurity). Chávez, meanwhile, stayed well known, and lived until 1993 (and he is rightly an icon among Hispanic Americans), and Delores Huerta is still alive and active.
The problem is that the above is rather idealized. Huerta, in joining the massive parade of figures in the ’60s labor and civil rights campaigns to support Hillary Clinton, has said some generally rather offensive (and outright false) things about Bernie Sanders and his supporters. (Full disclosure: I support Senator Sanders.) That’s an entirely separate rant, but Huerta, like Chávez, took a dim view on illegal immigrants in the ’60s and ’70s. Obviously, things were different: illegal immigrants were using to bust the unions. Now, illegal immigrants are as much the victims as legal immigrants, as NAFTA devastated the Mexican agriculture industry (corn, a major staple crop in Mexico, is super cheap here in the US thanks to heavy government subsidies). But it doesn’t change the fact that their tactics (which included reporting strike-breakers to the INS) would be right at home in today’s Republican Party. And worse, Chávez tried to curry favor with Filipino members of the UFW in the late ’70s by supporting Ferdinand Marcos. It’s one of the great ironies of the Civil Rights Movement: the people who survived the ’60s didn’t become giants like those who died. They became human. And in a frightfully tragic way, that’s a fate even worse than death.
And now for something completely different.
It’s no secret that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has become big business (and the Women’s Tournament is become quite popular, too), what with all the games being broadcast, and the brackets, and all of that. However, before 1969, a whopping zero games from the tournament were televised, and even then, it would be a long time before the NCAA allowed more than one school per conference to qualify for the tournament. (And then there’s the whole issue of the NIT, which was still considered to be a viable alternative to the NCAA tourney.) However, this wasn’t even the worst barrier to widespread acceptance: the biggest traditional power in the game, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, was coached by Adolph Rupp.
And despite what anyone says about his skill as a coach, Rupp was one of the most vile and disgusting racists the sport of basketball has ever seen.
While Kansas, the University of San Francisco, and UCLA had embraced integration (with the Dons and the Bruins being the top two programs on the West coast), Rupp had only begun to offer scholarships to black players in 1964, and his team was, by the 1965-1966 season, one of the last holdouts in the country. Despite Rupp’s increasingly outmoded way of thinking, the Wildcats were enormously successful, being led by SEC Player of the Year (and guy we’ll be discussing more in the future) Pat Riley and Louie Dampier despite being known as “Rupp’s Runts” because no player on the team was taller than 6’5″. So it wasn’t a huge shock when Kentucky made it to the championship game, nor was it when they were dubbed to be the favorites. Their opponents, however, had a substantially different path.
The Texas Western Miners, under the leadership of coach Don Haskins, were an up-and-coming program. Their starting five was also comprised entirely of African Americans. This was completely unheard of at the time, as even the NBA’s Boston Celtics, the most integrated pro basketball team of the era (ironically playing in, at the time, the most racially divided city in the North) usually had at least one white starter (it must be noted that this was not a slight by the man who singlehandedly integrated the NBA-Auerbach was fielding his best team each night regardless of race). And with the Celtics by far and away the best basketball team on the planet, there was no logical argument against integration (in fact, the argument was clearly for it). However, the last bastion of racist thought in basketball centered on the position of point guard (just as the thinking persisted with catchers in baseball, quarterbacks in football, and goalies in hockey), a position that, since it required quick thinking as much as athletic prowess, was “too complex” for African Americans. Ignoring for a moment that K.C. Jones had become the Celtics’ starting point guard following the retirement of Bob Cousy and the team had continued its historic winning ways, the train of thought was so horrendously couched in stereotypical thought as to seem comical today.
Owing in large part to their all-black starting lineup, the Miners faced a longer, harder climb to the championship. Owing in part to a loss to Seattle in their final regular season game (in which the refs called no fouls at all against Seattle, even though they committed a clear flagrant foul during the game), Texas Western had to play one more game than Kentucky (the NCAA Tournament had an unbalanced, 22-team bracket at the time) and were forced into overtime against Cincinnati in the second round and then double overtime against #4 Kansas in the regional finals. However, despite the obstacles, the Miners took the lead partway through the first half and never relinquished it. And while Haskins didn’t set out to do it, he only used the team’s black players in the victory.
I wish I could say that things were all puppies and kittens for Texas Western after the game. The players were leveled with accusations of being thugs and lacking class (even though the Texas Western team graduation rate far outstripped that of Kentucky’s), and no one even set up ladders for the traditional cutting of the net. They weren’t even invited onto The Ed Sullivan Show, which was the custom at the time. James A. Michener, in the year before he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, spent considerable time in his non-fiction book Sports in America ripping the team to shreds. Rupp, who had never before lost an NCAA title game, was haunted by the loss for the rest of his life, and contributed to the pigeon-holing of the Texas Western team, even though the entire South (save Kentucky) integrated by the following fall. Haskins, while he ran a successful program at Texas Western (and, as it came to be known, the University of Texas at El Paso, or UTEP) never again reached the Final Four, though he mentored Nolan Richardson, who was one of the most successful (and outspoken) black head coaches in college basketball during the ’80s and ’90s at Tulsa and Arkansas.
Next time, it’s time to discuss the second new Star Trek cast member to come aboard for the series.