The Boycott Campaign Started Against Johnny Cash

Although Johnny Cash had gained a cult following in the South, it was all about to be demolished after a court appearance in 1965.

Cash was arrested for illegal drug possession and smuggling at the time, and he stood trial for it, but the reason a boycotting campaign started against him wasn’t because of that. It was because the public believed he was married to an African-American woman.

The rocker’s first wife, Vivian Liberto, stood beside him as the couple walked outside the courthouse in El Paso, Texas, as Cash was released with a deferred sentence and a $1,000 fine for possessing drugs from a dealer. Journalists were waiting outside to take a snap of the singer and his rarely-seen wife.

When those snaps were featured in newspapers the next day, however, they were met with public backlash because it appeared that people thought Cash’s wife Liberto, an Italian-American, was African-American.

The outrage became clearer when the National States Rights Party, an Alabama-based white supremacist group, started mocking the couple’s pictures in their newspaper, the Thunderbolt, even stating that Cash’s fans should protest him and not buy his records since the money generated from those sales went ‘to scum like Johnny Cash to keep them supplied with dope and n*gro women.’

Liberto even recalled the harassment she and her husband received from the rocker’s Southern fans in her 2008 memoir, writing:

“Johnny and I received death threats, and an already shameful situation was made infinitely worse.”

The ‘death threats’ weren’t the only harassment the couple got, however, as the hate campaign resulted in numerous canceled shows, other threatening pamphlets, and reportedly a drop in Cash’s record sales. Things even got so bad, at one point, that the singer’s manager had to interfere as Cash’s biographer Michael Streissguth revealed in his book, ‘Johnny Cash: The Biography,’ stating:

“Cash’s manager had to respond. He was out there saying that Cash was not married to a Black woman.”

Streissguth also reported how the incident permanently ‘had the potential to affect his core, Southern audience,’ but the situation only winded down a year later. The couple then divorced in 1967, two years after the infamous boycott heated up, though it was also reported that Cash’s separation from Liberto wasn’t due to the incident, but because of the rocker’s alcohol and drug-related addiction.