Beatles Petition and Response
In April 1964, the U.S. Labor Department announced new rules for foreign entertainers. Applying through Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), entertainers with unique talent would be allowed to enter. The Labor Department would evaluate all others to assess availability of American workers. Based on several misleading newspaper reports, rumors spread quickly that the Beatles would not be allowed to return to the U.S. Teenagers from around the country expressed outrage, writing immediately to President Lyndon Johnson, Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz, and members of Congress, among others. In the following letter, Arizona teenager Bonnie Wilkins writes to Secretary Wirtz and Herman Kenin, president of the American Federation of Musicians, promising to "fight, argue, [and] negotiate" until the Beatles are allowed to perform in the U.S. She submitted petitions with thousands of signatures from around the country, asking to be taken seriously despite her age and appealing to a universal teenage culture, "I'm sure that you had fads when you were teenagers." Teenage culture emerged in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, based in part on a dramatic rise in high school attendance. Wilkins' letter and Wirtz's response demonstrate the acceptance of an established teenage culture in the 1960s, clearly defined both by its distinction from adult culture as well as by its connection. Wilkins and many other teens saw themselves as active citizens with a legitimate say in government actions.
6215 Calle Redonda
April 24, 1964
Mr. Herman Kenin
American Federation of Musicians
New York, New York
United States Sec. of Labor
Dear Messrs. Kenin and Wirtz,
In the past few weeks Miss Debbie Page and I have been sponsoring a campaign against a decision made by you. This concerns action you are taking to keep the British groups, especially the Beatles, out of the United States. We have petitions from numerous parts of the country, all stating our extreme dislike and disapproval of your efforts. These aren't just crank petitions, for we have studied the problem carefully, and we realize that we are only minors, and that you hold high and esteemed positions as leaders of the country. But in this case we cannot accept the statement that, "You Can't Fight City Hall". We are going to fight, argue, negotiate, and keep on sending you thousands of names until some action is taken. Please don't just laugh at the petitions and throw them in the wastebasket--- please hear our plea. I'm sure that you had fads when you were teenagers, and just because they are from another country, there is no need to act that way toward the Beatles. We were a little tired of our American singers, and the Beatles are a refreshing change.
We once again ask you to hear our plea, and please let the Beatles perform here--- they're not hurting anybody.
May 4 – 1964
Miss Bonnie Wilkins
6215 Calle Redonda
Thank you and Miss Debbie Page for sending me the petitions urging that the Beatles be allowed to come back to the United States.
The determination and ingenuity you demonstrated are very impressive. I also note that thousands of persons have signed your petitions. This is a tremendous showing of interest.
The reports that I am trying to keep out the Beatles are absolutely incorrect. I am sorry that this false impression was created by an erroneous newspaper report.
I do not know whether the Beatles will apply to re-enter the United States under the part of the law governed solely by the Immigration and Naturalization Service or under the rules where the department of Labor gives certain information to the Immigration Service. In either case, I assume the Beatles would be permitted to enter the United States again as they were earlier this year.
You may be relieved to know that, while the Government of the United States is old, it is not run by old fogies.
W. Willard Wirtz
Secretary of Labor
Lee Ann Potter, "The Reaction of Beatles' Fans to Immigration Law, 1964," in Teaching With Documents: 1950-1975 : Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ABC Clio (2002): 101-106. Visit Teaching with Documents for more activities.