Long hair, school, and the court
Posted by tock on March 04, 2002 at 19:34:18: Previous Next
Here's an interesting article from today's Dallas Morning News:
Stanley Marcus proved an ally in band's 1966 battle to keep long locks
By MICHAEL E. YOUNG / The Dallas Morning News
September 1966, and the flow of fashion was shifting, even in staid old Dallas.
Shifting maybe, but too slowly for three young musicians from Samuell High School, who found themselves neck deep in hot water with the tide rising against them.
But Paul Jarvis, Phil Ferrell and Steve Webb discovered powerful allies, too, most notably Stanley Marcus, a man with a style all his own and a relentless regard for constitutional freedoms.
And their unlikely fight – one of the first legal demands for individual rights against a big-city school district – is still cited more than 35 years later. It surfaced again in chronicling Mr. Marcus' life after he died on Jan. 22 at age 96.
Heck, Mr. Ferrell once read about the case in a college history book, and he provided his classmates with a firsthand account.
Back in 1966, Mr. Jarvis, Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Webb were 60 percent of a pop band called Sounds Unlimited. With summer over, they returned to Samuell for their senior year, properly shaggy, their hair just creeping over their ears.
School officials stopped them at the door.
"They told us we had to cut our hair," said Mr. Jarvis, a motorcycle officer and 29-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. "Basically, we said we weren't going to do it."
Or as the front-page story in the Dallas Times Herald put it: "Principal Orders Haircut; Moptops' Agent Weighs Suit."
The American Civil Liberties Union jumped in to handle the case. And the boys' unexpected advocate stepped forward then as well, with Mr. Marcus launching his own public-relations campaign on behalf of the would-be rock stars.
"He didn't want people to get run over," said Mr. Jarvis, 52, who is married with two grown children. "Mr. Marcus knew that this was a fashion thing, not a rebellious thing, and that's exactly what it was.
"We weren't trying to rebel against anything. This was about style, and that's what he was into."
All about the image
"We didn't want to cut our hair. When you're a musician, the hair kind of goes with the image," added Mr. Ferrell, who distributes restaurant supplies and wears his hair conservatively cut.
Mr. Marcus, who would remain a passionate proponent of individual rights for the rest of his life, took out a newspaper ad supporting the boys and spoke in their defense.
"His point, basically, is that this was unjust and it was a violation of our constitutional rights," said Mr. Ferrell, 53, who also is married and has two grown children.
"Of course, if you looked at Stanley Marcus then, he was wearing a fairly large beard and his hair wasn't exactly conservative.
"He was quite the trendsetter himself."
Soon, the case won international notoriety – Mr. Ferrell recalled at least one story from a German newspaper. And in Dallas, well, it was the topic of considerable debate, with Dallas school Superintendent W.T. White lamenting all the attention being paid to "malcontents."
The members of Sounds Unlimited, an ambitious bunch who had already hired an agent to guide their careers, took full advantage of their moment of fame.
They scribbled down lyrics to a song called "Keep Your Hands Off Of It," about their showdown at Samuell.
"Bopped up on the steps, the principal I met, you're not gettin' in, what ya wanna bet? Keep your hands off of it ... ."
OK, as protest songs go, it wasn't quite "The Times, They Are A-Changin'."
But with Mr. Marcus on their side, and all the attention from their federal court suit against the Dallas Independent School District, Sounds Unlimited's tune found an audience, pushing into the Top 20 on KBOX while KLIF refused to play it, Mr. Jarvis said.
"When Mr. Marcus backed us, it gave our cause more validity," Mr. Ferrell said. "I was 17 or 18 at the time, and to have a rather prominent gentleman like that step out for our cause, it was incredible.
"It not only helped our cause, but it gave us a lot of free publicity. And it brought our popularity to a new level."
Fame, though, was fleeting.
The boys would ultimately lose their case in U.S. District Judge W.M. Taylor Jr.'s courtroom. Judge Taylor found that long hair was not a constitutional right. Worse, he knocked their song, calling it "an excursion into cacophony."
Attorneys appealed the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was never overturned, and it is cited occasionally in court cases.
None of the three returned to Samuell, opting for other schools or for correspondence courses to get their diplomas. And within a year, Sounds Unlimited was out of business, too.
"As I recall, Steve and Phil kind of went on and did some things together with a couple of other guys. I went with another group, but then it all just kind of ended," Mr. Jarvis said.
Eventually, Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Ferrell joined the Marines, and the question of hair length quickly became irrelevant.
"You know, when the group broke up, we had no reason or cause to keep the long hair," Mr. Ferrell said. "When we were fighting to keep it, we thought we wanted to make our living as professional musicians. But when it fell apart, we were all kind of disillusioned and went our own ways."
All three remain in Dallas but said they don't see one another for years at a time.
"It's funny," Mr. Ferrell said. "We were the closest of friends then, but our lives took us in different directions.
"I see Paul more than I do Steve, but I only see Paul every two or three years. The last time I saw Steve must have been four or five years ago," he said.
Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Ferrell spoke fondly of Mr. Webb, who reciprocated. But he said he would rather not be in the spotlight again and declined to talk further.
Thirty-five years after their autumn of fame, Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Ferrell remain convinced that their fight was just. But when they look at old photos, both are amazed that such a modest bit of hair generated so much controversy.
"If you see the pictures today, it's laughable," Mr. Ferrell said. "Our hair was just touching our ears. And in 85 to 90 percent of the photos, we're wearing sports coats and ties. We don't look particularly rough."
Of course they weren't troublemakers or malcontents, despite what Mr. White, the superintendent, might have said.
"Everyone turned out pretty well," Mr. Jarvis said. "Steve Webb was a very successful businessman. He's retired now. Phil is very successful in his business. And I've been a policeman for 29 years.
"We're all just plugging away, trying to be productive citizens."
And even after all this time, the men remain touched that someone like Stanley Marcus would read about three teens and step forward to defend them.
"Back in the '80s, I had a part-time job at Republic National Bank, and Mr. Marcus had his office in the bank building," Mr. Jarvis said. "So one day I went up and just visited with him. He remembered who I was, and he remembered the case.
"He was just a nice man and a great contributor to Dallas and to the arts. He wanted to do what was right."
Text of Sidebar:
Sept. 7 – Phil Ferrell, Paul Jarvis and Steve Webb are told to go home and get a haircut before they can return to Samuell High School.
Sept. 8 – Stanley Marcus sends a telegram to the Dallas school board president: "I do not like long hair any more than the principal does, but I will fight for the rights of those students to wear hair any way they choose."
Sept. 13 – U.S. District Judge W.M. Taylor Jr. rules that the boys can return to school until a hearing is held. "I do not want to see these boys deprived of attending school simply on this basis," he said.
Sept. 22 – The court case begins, with Dallas lawyer Herbert Hooks representing the three students. The Dallas Times Herald noted that their hair was neatly combed – and uncut.
Sept. 23 – Mr. Ferrell testifies about the success of the group's song "Keep Your Hands Off of It," which became a Top 20 hit in Dallas.
Sept. 26 – The song is played in court, despite Mr. Hooks' objections. These were the opening lines:
"Went to school,
Got kicked out.
Hair's too long,
Now we're gonna shout!"
Sept. 27 – The students return to class at Samuell while Judge Taylor considers the case.
Sept. 30 – Judge Taylor rules that requiring haircuts is neither arbitrary nor capricious and is within the school district's rights. The three students decide to attend school elsewhere.