I'd heard there was 'nothing new' in Ron Howard's Beatles movie, and in the grand scheme of things this turned out to be true, though there's new concert footage and excellent bits with the fans. (Among other things, you'll see a tweenage Sigourney Weaver, up in the nosebleed seats at the Hollywood Bowl.) But forty-five minutes into the film, there's a striking set piece.
At an American press conference, a journalist asks the Beatles about an upcoming performance at a football stadium in Jacksonville, Florida: 'What about this comment that I heard concerning racial integration at various performances?'
'We don't like it if there's any segregation or anything, because it just seems mad to me,' Paul McCartney replies.
'Well, you're going to play Jacksonville Friday. Do you anticipate any kind of difference developing?'
'Well I don't know, really. That'd be a bit silly, to segregate people. ’Cause, you know, I mean – yeah, I just think it's stupid! You can't treat other people like animals!'
'That's the way we all feel,' the other Beatles chip in.
'That's the way we all feel, and a lot of people in England feel that way, you know, ’cause there's never any segregation in concerts in England and, in fact, if there was,' Paul says, with a sneer, 'we wouldn't play them, you know?'
The show's organisers relented. On 11 September 1964, the Beatles performed for an integrated audience in Jacksonville.
Recalling the incident the other week, while promoting Howard's film on American television, McCartney said:
Brian Epstein, our manager, would have just said: 'Oh, you know, and this show is segregated.' We thought he was joking … We actually put it in the contract. It wasn't a big political gesture. It's just instinct that, you know: why shouldn't black and white people be together? It wasn't political to us. It was just like, 'Haha. No. We're not doing it.'
It was, of course, a political gesture. Howard's film tells us, matter-of-factly, that as a result, stadiums across the South were integrated. Maybe so. The Civil Rights Act passed earlier that summer would have already mandated it, but as Jacksonville showed, Southern concert promoters were in no rush to comply. The Beatles themselves never made a big deal out of the Jacksonville show. The officially sanctioned Beatles Anthology quotes John Lennon: 'We had a marvellous time water-skiing in Florida.' It's the only time, for all of 1964, that Florida's mentioned.