“Sip-In” takes place at Julius’ Bar in New York City

On the afternoon of April 21, 1966, a bar crawl in New York’s West Village leads to an important early moment in the gay liberation movement. In what will be dubbed the “Sip-In,” Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell and John Timmons publicly identify themselves as gay and demand to be served anyway, challenging the unofficial but widespread practice of banning gay customers from bars.

Although the gay community in New York grew and established numerous clandestine hubs over the course of the 1950s and ’60s, they were still met with open contempt at most bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in the city. Gay men were often accused of “disorderly conduct” simply for being gay and thrown out of bars even though there was no law against homosexuality or serving gays. These were acts of bigotry, but also self-preservation, as the NYPD routinely raided and shut down bars where gays were known to congregate. It was not uncommon for bars to put up signs with messages like “If you are gay, please stay away,” or the slightly subtler “Patrons Must Face the Bar While Drinking,” a coded warning against men trying to pick up other men.

READ MORE: How the Mob Helped Establish NYC’s Gay Bar Scene

Leitsch, Rodwell, and Timmons—later joined by Randy Wicker—were members of the Mattachine Society, a group that tried to break the taboo around homosexuality and present themselves as clean-cut model citizens to combat homophobia and carve out a place in the public sphere for openly gay men. Borrowing an idea from the civil rights movement, they decided to sit down at various bars in Lower Manhattan, announce that they were gay and refuse to leave without being served. The trio was kicked out of the first bar before they arrived—a reporter they had tipped off beat them to the bar and spilled the beans to the bartender, who closed his bar rather than serve them. The group proceeded to two more bars, telling their servers they were gay, and each instance ended with a discussion with the manager and free drinks for the activists. “I’m starting to feel drunk,” Timmons recalled telling his friends. “We better get this done already.”

They finally made their stand at Julius’ Bar, a spot popular with the gay community. The bartender put a glass down in front of Leitsch as he approached the bar, only to place his hand over it after Leitsch announced that he was gay. A newspaper photographer captured the moment, and the Sip-In became legend. Some accounts of the Sip-In hold that the bartender at Julius’ was playing along with the Mattachine in order to help them attract publicity, while others claim that Julius’, though usually gay-friendly, denied the men their drinks because it had been raided by the police just a few days before.

Although its legacy would be dwarfed by the Stonewall Riots, which began in the same neighborhood three years later, the Sip-In did cause a stir. News of the event prompted an official announcement from the chairman of the New York State Liquor authority, affirming that there was nothing in state law about denying service to gays, and a ruling from New York’s Commission on Human Rights that one could not be denied service simply for being homosexual. Across the river in New Jersey, the Mattachine began suing bar owners who denied them service the following year, winning a state Supreme Court ruling that, while labelling gays “unfortunates,” held that “their status does not make them criminals or outlaws.”

READ MORE: The Gay ‘Sip-In’ that Drew from the Civil Rights Movement to Fight Discrimination

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Lunik 9 soft-lands on lunar surface


Year
1966
Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 1966, the Soviet Union accomplishes the first controlled landing on the moon, when the unmanned spacecraft Lunik 9 touches down on the Ocean of Storms. After its soft landing, the circular capsule opened like a flower, deploying its antennas, and began transmitting photographs and television images back to Earth. The 220-pound landing capsule was launched from Earth on January 31.

Lunik 9 was the third major lunar first for the Soviet space program: On September 14, 1959, Lunik 2 became the first manmade object to reach the moon when it impacted with the lunar surface, and on October 7 of the same year Lunik 3 flew around the moon and transmitted back to Earth the first images of the dark side of the moon. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. space program consistently trailed the Soviet program in space firsts–a pattern that shifted dramatically with the triumph of America’s Apollo lunar program in the late 1960s.

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The Troggs take their signature hit, “Wild Thing,” to #1

Year
1966
Month Day
July 30

If there is one song that has been played more times by more bands in more garages than any ever written, it is probably “Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen’s classic 1966 hit. But if any other song warrants a place in the conversation, it would be “Wild Thing,” the three-chord masterpiece that became a #1 hit for The Troggs on July 30, 1966 and instantly took its rightful place in the rock-and-roll canon.

“Wild Thing” was written in 1965 by a New York songwriter named Chip Taylor (born James Voight, brother of the actor Jon Voight and uncle of actress Angelina Jolie). After an unsuccessful version of the song was recorded and released by a group called The Wild Ones, Taylor’s demo made its way to England, where Reg Presley (born Reginald Ball), lead singer of The Troggs, fell in love with it. Like Taylor himself, who never took his biggest hit very seriously, Presley initially found “Wild Thing” to be a ridiculous trifle, but that didn’t stop him from having his then-hitless band take it into the studio. In a single take of “Wild Thing,” The Troggs captured a raw and thrilling sound that not only gave them a #1 hit, but also served as a formative influence on some of the key figures in the development of punk rock, including Iggy Pop, the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, all of whom credited The Troggs as forerunners.

There were other hits for The Troggs, including “With A Girl Like You” (1966) and “Love Is All Around” (1967)—but nothing to match “Wild Thing” in terms of success or influence. In fact, the most influential recording they made after 1968 was not of a song at all, but of an intra-band argument during a troubled 1972 recording session that was bootlegged out of the studio and passed around as “The Troggs Tapes.”  On it, various Troggs can be heard bickering and cursing (137 times in 10+ minutes) in accents and language that served as the direct inspiration for This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner’s 1984 seminal “mockumentary.”

“Wild Thing” was memorably performed by Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, complete with burning guitar, and it was covered with some success by the L.A. punk band X in 1989, but it’s the Troggs’ version that has become a staple of movie and television soundtracks. With royalties earned from his band’s signature hit, Trogg frontman Reg Presley emerged as one of the world’s foremost experts on and largest sources of funding of research into the mysterious phenomenon of crop circles. He died in 2013. 

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Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler hits #1 with “Ballad of the Green Berets”


Year
1966
Month Day
March 05

Thanks to Hollywood, America’s collective memory of the Vietnam War is now inextricably linked with the popular music of that era. More specifically, it is linked with the music of the late-’60s counterculture and antiwar movement. But opposition to the war was far from widespread back in 1966—a fact that was reflected not just in popular opinion polls, but in the pop charts, too. Near the very height of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, on March 5, 1966, American popular-music fans made a #1 hit out of a song called “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler.

Sadler was exactly what his name and uniform implied he was: a real-life, active-duty member of the United States Army Special Forces—the elite unit popularly known as the Green Berets. In early 1965, Sadler suffered a severe punji stick injury that brought a premature end to his tour of duty as a combat medic in Vietnam. During his long hospitalization back in the United States, Sadler, an aspiring musician prior to the war, wrote and submitted to music publishers an epic ballad that eventually made its way in printed form to Robin Moore, author of the then-current nonfiction book called The Green Berets. Moore worked with Sadler to whittle his 12-verse original down to a pop-radio-friendly length, and Sadler recorded the song himself in late 1965, first for distribution only within the military, and later for RCA when the original took off as an underground hit. Within two weeks of its major-label release, The Ballad of the Green Berets had sold more than a million copies, going on to become Billboard magazine’s #1 single for all of 1966.

While it would not be accurate to call “The Ballad Of The Green Berets” a pro-war song, it was certainly a song that enjoyed popularity among those who opposed the growing anti-war movement. A year after “Green Berets” came out, Buffalo Springfield would release the anti-war anthem “For What It’s Worth,” which continues to be Hollywood’s go-to choice for many films and television programs depicting American involvement in the Vietnam War. On this day in 1966, however, the American airwaves belonged to a clean cut, uniformed member of the U.S. Army and his anti-antiwar epic.

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The first Kwanzaa


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Year
1966
Month Day
December 26

The first day of the first Kwanzaa is celebrated in Los Angeles under the direction of Maulana Karenga, the chair of Black Studies at California State University at Long Beach. The seven-day holiday, which has strong African roots, was designed by Dr. Karenga as a celebration of African American family, community, and culture.

In 1965, a deadly riot broke out in the predominantly black Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, leaving 34 people dead, 1,000 injured, and $40 million worth of property destroyed. Karenga, a former black activist, was deeply disturbed by the devastation and searched for a way to overcome the despair he felt had gripped the African American community in the riot’s aftermath. He founded Us, a black cultural organization, and looked to Africa in search of practices and concepts that might empower and unite the nation’s African American community. Inspired by Africa’s harvest celebrations, he decided to develop a nonreligious holiday that would stress the importance of family and community while giving African Americans an opportunity to explore their African identities.

Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry readings, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the kinara, or candleholder, then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba, are values of African culture that contribute to building and reinforcing community among African Americans. These values include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, economic cooperation, purpose, creativity, and faith. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31. Today, Kwanzaa is celebrated by millions of people of African descent all across the United States and Canada.

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Soviet probe crashes into Venus


Year
1966
Month Day
March 01

Venera 3, a Soviet probe launched from Kazakhstan on November 15, 1965, collides with Venus, the second planet from the sun. Although Venera 3 failed in its mission to measure the Venusian atmosphere, it was the first unmanned spacecraft to reach the surface of another planet. Four years earlier, the U.S. probe Mariner 2 was the first spacecraft to pass close enough to Venus to take scientific measurements of the planet, discovering surface temperatures in excess of 800 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface.

In 1967, Venera 4 succeeded where Venera 3 failed, successfully ejecting several scientific instruments, including a thermometer, a barometer, an atmospheric density gauge, and gas analyzers, into Venus’ atmosphere. Then, in 1970, Venera 7 became the first spacecraft created by humans to soft-land on Venus, successfully sending back images and data for 23 minutes before succumbing to the extremely high temperature and atmospheric pressure found on the planet’s surface.

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Civil rights activist James Meredith shot

Year
1966
Month Day
June 06

James H. Meredith, who in 1962 became the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, is shot by a sniper shortly after beginning a lone civil rights march through the South. Known as the “March Against Fear,” Meredith had been walking from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, in an attempt to encourage voter registration by African Americans in the South.

READ MORE: Civil Rights Movement: Timeline, Key Leaders and Events

A former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, Meredith applied and was accepted to the University of Mississippi in 1962, but his admission was revoked when the registrar learned of his race. A federal court ordered “Ole Miss” to admit him, but when he tried to register on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. On September 28, the governor was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university or face arrest and a fine of $10,000 a day. Two days later, Meredith was escorted onto the Ole Miss campus by U.S. Marshals, setting off riots that resulted in the deaths of two students. He returned the next day and began classes. In 1963, Meredith, who was a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, graduated with a degree in political science.

Three years later, Meredith returned to the public eye when he began his March Against Fear. On June 6, just one day into the march, he was sent to a hospital by a sniper’s bullet. Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael, arrived to continue the march on his behalf. It was during the March Against Fear that Carmichael, who was leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, first spoke publicly of “Black Power”—his concept of militant African American nationalism. James Meredith later recovered and rejoined the march he had originated, and on June 26 the marchers successfully reached Jackson, Mississippi.

READ MORE: James Meredith: His Life and Legacy

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Indira Gandhi becomes Indian prime minister


Year
1966
Month Day
January 19

Following the death of Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi becomes head of the Congress Party and thus prime minister of India. She was India’s first female head of government and by the time of her assassination in 1984 was one of its most controversial.

Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of the independent Republic of India. She became a national political figure in 1955, when she was elected to the executive body of the Congress Party. In 1959, she served as president of the party and in 1964 was appointed to an important post in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s ruling government. Soon after becoming prime minister, Gandhi was challenged by the right wing of the Congress Party, and in the 1967 election she won only a narrow victory and thus had to rule with a deputy prime minister.

In 1971, she won a resounding reelection victory over the opposition and became the undisputed leader of India. That year, she ordered India’s invasion of Pakistan in support of the creation of Bangladesh, which won her greater popularity and led her New Congress Party to a landslide victory in national elections in 1972.

During the next few years, she presided over increasing civil unrest brought on by food shortages, inflation, and regional disputes. Her administration was criticized for its strong-arm tactics in dealing with these problems. Meanwhile, charges by the Socialist Party that she had defrauded the 1971 election led to a national scandal. In 1975, the High Court in Allahabad convicted her of a minor election infraction and banned her from politics for six years. In response, she declared a state of emergency throughout India, imprisoned thousands of political opponents, and restricted personal freedoms in the country. Among several unpopular programs during this period was the forced sterilization of men and women as a means of controlling population growth.

In 1977, long-postponed national elections were held, and Gandhi and her party were swept from office. The next year, Gandhi’s supporters broke from the Congress Party and formed the Congress (I) Party, with the “I” standing for “Indira.” Later in 1978, she was briefly imprisoned for official corruption. Soon after the ruling Janata Party fell apart, the Congress (I) Party, with Indira as its head, won a spectacular election victory in 1980, and Gandhi was again prime minister.

In the early 1980s, several regional states intensified their call for greater autonomy from New Delhi, and the Sikh secessionist movement in Punjab resorted to violence and terrorism. In 1984, the Sikh leaders set up base in their sacred Golden Temple in Amritsar. Gandhi responded by sending the Indian army in, and hundreds of Sikhs were killed in the government assault. In retaliation, Sikh members of Gandhi’s own bodyguard gunned her down on the grounds of her home on October 31, 1984. She was succeeded by her son, Rajiv Gandhi.

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H-bomb lost in Spain


Year
1966
Month Day
January 17

 B-52 bomber collides with a KC-135 jet tanker over Spain’s Mediterranean coast, dropping three 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs near the town of Palomares and one in the sea. It was not the first or last accident involving American nuclear bombs.

As a means of maintaining first-strike capability during the Cold War, U.S. bombers laden with nuclear weapons circled the earth ceaselessly for decades. In a military operation of this magnitude, it was inevitable that accidents would occur. The Pentagon admits to more than three-dozen accidents in which bombers either crashed or caught fire on the runway, resulting in nuclear contamination from a damaged or destroyed bomb and/or the loss of a nuclear weapon. One of the only “Broken Arrows” to receive widespread publicity occurred on January 17, 1966, when a B-52 bomber crashed into a KC-135 jet tanker over Spain.

The bomber was returning to its North Carolina base following a routine airborne alert mission along the southern route of the Strategic Air Command when it attempted to refuel with a jet tanker. The B-52 collided with the fueling boom of the tanker, ripping the bomber open and igniting the fuel. The KC-135 exploded, killing all four of its crew members, but four members of the seven-man B-52 crew managed to parachute to safety. None of the bombs were armed, but explosive material in two of the bombs that fell to earth exploded upon impact, forming craters and scattering radioactive plutonium over the fields of Palomares. A third bomb landed in a dry riverbed and was recovered relatively intact. The fourth bomb fell into the sea at an unknown location.

Palomares, a remote fishing and farming community, was soon filled with nearly 2,000 U.S. military personnel and Spanish civil guards who rushed to clean up the debris and decontaminate the area. The U.S. personnel took precautions to prevent overexposure to the radiation, but the Spanish workers, who lived in a country that lacked experience with nuclear technology, did not. Eventually some 1,400 tons of radioactive soil and vegetation were shipped to the United States for disposal.

Meanwhile, at sea, 33 U.S. Navy vessels were involved in the search for the lost hydrogen bomb. Using an IBM computer, experts tried to calculate where the bomb might have landed, but the impact area was still too large for an effective search. Finally, an eyewitness account by a Spanish fisherman led the investigators to a one-mile area. On March 15, a submarine spotted the bomb, and on April 7 it was recovered. It was damaged but intact.

Studies on the effects of the nuclear accident on the people of Palomares were limited, but the United States eventually settled some 500 claims by residents whose health was adversely affected. Because the accident happened in a foreign country, it received far more publicity than did the dozen or so similar crashes that occurred within U.S. borders. As a security measure, U.S. authorities do not announce nuclear weapons accidents, and some American citizens may have unknowingly been exposed to radiation that resulted from aircraft crashes and emergency bomb jettisons. Today, two hydrogen bombs and a uranium core lie in yet undetermined locations in the Wassaw Sound off Georgia, in the Puget Sound off Washington, and in swamplands near Goldsboro, North Carolina.

READ MORE: The Secret ‘White Trains’ That Carried Nuclear Weapons Around the U.S.

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South African prime minister and architect of apartheid assassinated

Year
1966
Month Day
September 06

South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd is stabbed to death by a deranged messenger during a parliamentary meeting in Cape Town. The assailant, Demetrio Tsafendas, was a Mozambique immigrant of mixed racial descent—part Greek and part Swazi.

As minister of native affairs and later as South African leader, Verwoerd oversaw the introduction and application of South Africa’s racist apartheid policies. As prime minister from 1958, he instituted an intricate system of laws separating whites, Africans (Blacks), Coloureds, and Asians, and resettled Black people in backwater reservations. These policies provoked anti-apartheid demonstrations by Black people, which were brutally crushed by government forces at Sharpeville and elsewhere. When, in April 1960, Verwoerd miraculously survived being shot twice in the head by an English farmer, he proclaimed that his survival was evidence of God’s approval of his work. During the next few years, Verwoerd’s government arrested anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela and sentenced them to long prison terms on the basis of various convictions.

Verwoerd had succeeded in temporarily crushing anti-apartheid resistance, but he could not prevent a schizophrenic parliamentary page from walking up to him in the Houses of Assembly and stabbing him to death on September 6, 1966. Tsafendas, who apparently was not acting in protest of apartheid, was sent to a mental hospital near Johannesburg, where he lived until his death in 1999. Apartheid was abolished in South Africa in 1993.

READ MORE: The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa

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