By KO'ing Sonny Liston in March 1964 Cassius Clay became, at 22, world heavyweight champ. Soon he embraced the Black Muslim faith and adopted the name Muhammad Ali. But in 1967, upon refusing to be drafted, Ali was stripped of the title. He had to sit out three years. Not until 1974 did he reclaim the crown, by rope-a-doping George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire.
In mid-February 1965, he was trying to jump-start his new Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcolm X, 39 (with wife Betty Shabazz and their daughters), had broken with the Black Muslims over tactics to speed black empowerment. The split proved fatal. At an upcoming rally, three men would shoot him dead.
Less than a week after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law, a Los Angeleno fell victim to the lawlessness ravaging Watts. The poor South-Central neighborhood became a war zone after the August 11 arrest of a black motorist. LA riot police couldn't reclaim the streets; 12,500 National Guardsmen needed five days. The toll: 34 dead, 4,000 arrested, damages as high as $200 million.
Captain Vernon Gillespie, on recon with Montagnard troops, was, in November 1964, one of 23,000 US advisers training South Vietnam's army. But LBJ had just won four more years in the White House. He had Congress's O.K. to use "all necessary measures" to contain the North. By August 1965, there would be 125,000 American troops "in country" - and draft boards would soon be inducting 35,000 men a month.
Billie Holiday: The self-taught singer transcended a grim childhood in Baltimore to reign as the supreme jazz vocalist of her era. Lady Day toured with the bands of Count Basie and Artie Shaw and, with saxophonist Lester Young, cut a stack of LPs good until the end of time. Her own time came to early: She was a casualty of heroin.
To rekindle the spirit that had swept him to power, in 1966 Mao Tse-tung, 72, called for a Cultural Revolution. What he wanted and got was class warfare. His youthful Red Guards zealously targeted academics, professionals - and anyone who questioned the absolute wisdom of the Great Helmsman. Tens of thousands died in the 10-year spasm that cost China its near future.
On Day 6, the Six Day War was over. Top spoil: the Old City of Jerusalem, site of Judaism's sacred Wailing Wall won from Jordan. Gravest unintended consequence: From the shattered Arab lands would emerge the militant Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO.
The AM lyrics in 1967 echoed the tribal desires of young America. Groovin' on a Sunday afternoon. There's a new generation with a new explanation. Come on, baby, light my fire. All you need is love. But the issues of the day would not quit: 128 cities hit by racial rioting, 125,000 antiwar marchers in New York City. This Summer of Love was far from endless.
An Army brat and psychologist, by 1967 Timothy Leary, 47, was America's new Alexis de Tokeville. Testing the therapeutic uses of hallucinogens at Harvard had cost him his job, so Leary went freelance and became an early proselytizer of dope, including LSD. Before his death in 1996, he'd begun dabbling in, natch, virtual reality.
Only 26% of America backed his Vietnam policy. Still, the March 31, 1968 address to the nation by President Lyndon B. Johnson, 59, was a stunner. He ended it by saying he wouldn't seek another term.
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At 62, Bob Hope was still on the road to the next yuk. The gobs aboard USS Fort Ticonderoga in Jan 1966 enjoyed an act the comic (who enlisted in the USO in 1941) had bravely performed in various theaters of World War II and Korea.
Hank Williams: His song about lyin', cheatin', and drinkin' won the failed rodeo rider a home at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. Though the hillbilly Shakespeare read no music, his own ballads were soon covered by such mainstream artists as Jo Stafford and Tony Bennett. Williams's own vices undid him; drugs and alcohol are suspected of triggering a fatal heart attack.
The Kremlin ousted its premier after 6 years both turbulent (the Cuban missile crisis) and buffoonish (at a UN meeting, he banged on the desk with one of his shoes). Yet Khrushchev, 70, was the first Soviet leader to leave office alive. He and wife Nina finished their days at a dacha near Moscow.
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Newark's police beat a black motorist in 1967, which led to four days of strife and 26 dead, 24 of which were black. In November, the Census Bureau reported that compared with whites, nonwhites were twice as likely to be unemployed and thrice as likely to live in substandard housing.