2013 – 50th anniversary of “The Year Everything Happened”

Dec 11th, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

A 17-year-old civil rights demonstrator, defying an anti-parade ordinance in Birmingham, Alabama, is attacked by a police dog on May 3, 1963. On the afternoon of May 4, 1963, during a meeting at the White House with members of a political group, President Kennedy discussed this photo, which had appeared on the front page of that day's New York Times. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson).

You may have already noticed that we have been commemorating an unusual number of 50th anniversaries during the year that is now winding down to its inexorable conclusion, some three weeks hence.

A few weeks ago a newspaper in Ocala, Florida (locally said to be “well known as a ‘horse capital of the world’”) noted that : “To many historians, 1963 was a pivotal year. Yet for many of us around 50 years ago, it was more like a roller coaster of ups and downs, highs and lows … An online CBS News retrospective earlier this year dubbed 1963 ‘The Year Everything Happened.’”

There is something especially attractive about this view for someone as old as I am (like most of the other contributors to this “political blogazine with a Canadian focus”). I was in my late teens in 1963 – and just beginning to pay altogether serious attention to the larger universe I knew about almost entirely through the mass media of the day.

Andy Warhol’s 1963 homage to Mao Zedong, based on a photographic portrait ripped out of Newsweek magazine.

Looking back now, I don’t think that the story of 1963, in the particular part of the just awakening global village people like me inhabited, needs a lot of window dressing or elaborate explanation. It’s enough to just go through the year in chronological order, noting at least a few specifics about the everything that happened :

JANUARY 1963 –   George Wallace becomes governor of Alabama, pledging “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever” … Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer end a long story of conflict in Europe by signing Franco-German treaty of co-operation … Mao Zedong writes poem “Reply to Comrade Kuo Mo-Jo .. The west wind scatters leaves over Changan .. So many deeds cry out to be done ..”

FEBRUARY 1963 – President John F. Kennedy sends major civil rights message to Congress … New York Review of Books publishes first issue,  during a printer’s strike that has shut down seven New York City newspapers … Iraq premier Abd al-Karim Qasim executed by Ba’athist anti-communist coup in Bagdhad, allegedly backed by US and UK governments.

President Kennedy and Prime Minister Pearson on terrace of Kennedy summer home in Hyannis Port, Mass., May 10, 1963. AP.

MARCH 1963 – Beatles release first album, “Please Please Me” …  British Secretary of State for War John Profumo denies having sex with Christine Keeler, also said to be intimate with official at Soviet Russian embassy in London … France performs underground nuclear test at Ecker, Algeria.

APRIL 1963 – Canadian Liberal leader Lester Pearson replaces Conservative John Diefenbaker as prime minister, but with only a minority government …  Police in Birmingham, Alabama use dogs & cattle prods on peaceful civil rights demonstrators   …  disorder breaks out in last stages of Aldermaston March for nuclear disarmament in UK … Toronto Maple Leafs beat Detroit Red Wings for Stanley Cup, 4 games to 1. (And in Toronto now some still talk wistfully about how “Those were the days” – when hockey was over in April, among other things.)

* * * *

MAY 1963 – India-Pakistan talks on disputed region of Kahsmir break down … General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) begins ‘Kennedy Round’ negotiations for tariff cuts … Organization of African Unity is established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with 32 signatory governments (it will be replaced by the African Union in 2002).

JUNE 1963 – Pope John XXIII, whose passionate views on equality were summed up in his statement “we were all made in God’s image, and thus, we are all Godly alike,” dies at age 81 … John Profumo resigns from UK Parliament, admitting he misled colleagues about Christine Keeler in March … Civil rights leader Medgar Evers is murdered by sniper in Jackson, Mississippi … President Kennedy declares “Ich bin ein Berliner” in West Berlin.

JULY 1963 – ZIP codes for mail introduced in United States … US bans all monetary transactions with Cuba … Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development votes to admit Japan.

Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. waves to supporters on the Mall in Washington, D.C. during the "March on Washington," on August 28, 1963. King said the march was "the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of the United States." (AFP/AFP/Getty Images).

AUGUST 1963 –   US, UK, and USSR sign nuclear test ban treaty … Hundreds of thousands demonstrate for civil rights in Washington, DC, and Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial … Emergency “hot line” established between White House in Washington and the Kremlin in Moscow, to prevent “accidental war.”

SEPTEMBER 1963 – Twenty black students enter white public schools in Alabama, after standoff between Governor Wallace and federal authorities … Black Baptist Church is bombed in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four schoolgirls … Anglo-French report favours English Channel Tunnel between UK and France (though the concept will not be finally realized until 1994)..

OCTOBER 1963 – Nigeria becomes an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations … Commission on Status of Women reports to President Kennedy, who concedes that there is unjust discrimination against women in the United States … Harold Macmillan resigns as UK prime minister, in wake of Profumo Scandal … South Africa begins trial of Nelson Mandela and eight others on conspiracy charges.

Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, is placed on a stretcher after moments after being shot in the stomach in Dallas, Texas, on November 24, 1963. Nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald as the prisoner was being transferred through the underground garage of Dallas police headquarters. (AP Photo).

NOVEMBER 1963 – President Ngo Dinh Diem is murdered in a military coup in Vietnam … AT&T introduces touch-tone telephone in United States … Baseball’s Elston Howard becomes first black ever voted Most Valuable Player in American League … President John F. Kennedy assassinated during motorcade in Dallas, Texas ; Lee Harvey Oswald is charged, and then shot to death by Jack Ruby two days later … Vice President Lyndon Johnson becomes new US president.

DECEMBER 1963 –  UN Security Council votes for partial embargo on arms shipments to apartheid regime in South Africa … Kenya becomes an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations … Valium is introduced by Roche laboratories in the United States.

* * * *

In the Senate of Rome, about 45 BC – as imagined by the extravagant 1963 movie Cleopatra, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Finally, some hasty notes on a few books published and movies first shown (mostly in English) in 1963 :

BOOKS FICTION :   Jack Kerouac, Big Sur ;  John Le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold ; Mary McCarthy, The Group.

BOOKS NON-FICTION : James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time ; Morley Callaghan, That Summer in Paris ; Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique.

MOVIES : The Birds (Hitchcock) ; Cleopatra (not a great or even a good movie, but a spectacle that begat the Burton-Taylor romance and all that) ; 8½ (Fellini) ; The Great Escape (remembering the Second World War) ; Lilies of the Field (with Sidney Poitier, the first serious black actor in Hollywood) ; Tom Jones (the charms of Henry Fielding’s  England in the middle of the 18th century – I think I saw it three times in 1963 alone).

And here are the main sources for my monthly chronology above :

Paul Dickson, Timelines: Day by Day and Trend by Trend from the Dawn of the Atomic Age to the Gulf War

James Trager, The People’s Chronology: A Year-By-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present

Neville Williams, Chronology of the Modern World, 1763 to the present time

Historical Events for Year 1963

The Year 1963 From The People History

50 Years Ago: The World in 1963

1963 : The Year Everything Happened

The World 50 Years Ago: 1963 in LIFE Covers

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