The 1960s were an era of tremendous change throughout the United States. Through the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others, the Civil Rights Movement gained more and more attention after originating in the south during the 1950s, causing people groups of all kinds to raise their voices — particularly around San Francisco, where the Human Be-In occurred on January 14, 1967. Just one part of the larger counterculture attitude among younger adults, the event would end up leading to the famed Summer of Love in the City by the Bay.
Two decades after the end of World War II, the children of those Americans who fought valiantly in Europe and the Pacific found themselves with fewer and fewer reasons to believe in the society they grew up in. The revelation during the late 1950s that discriminatory practices against African-Americans had continued since the end of the Civil War shocked many. When combined with newspaper and television images of otherwise peaceful civil rights protesters being beaten by police across the former Confederacy, twentysomething Americans found the injustice intolerable.
At the same time, Cold War tensions shaped public perceptions of national government. The three-week Hungarian Revolution against communism and the subsequent Soviet military action to crush the rebellion in 1956 seemed to demonstrate how far those in power were willing to go to in order to maintain it. Years later, when Gary Powers was shot down piloting the U-2 spy plane over Russia — and US President Dwight Eisenhower lied about why he was flying there — suppression of the truth appeared to be the rule instead of the exception.
When the government of California made the psychoactive drug LSD illegal in October 1966, disgruntled college students from around San Francisco Bay joined together in Golden Gate Park for the Love Pageant Rally in protest. Near the eclectic Haight-Ashbury district, an 18-block collection of dilapidated Victorian homes with low rent attractive to free-spirited youths, the Rally brought together a few thousand hippies.
Throughout “The Haight,” LSD was an accepted feature of the culture and attendants wanted to cry out against its prohibition without instigating a conflict with local police.
Inspired by the sit-ins performed by African-Americans to raise awareness of inequality throughout the southern US, the group peacefully sat in the park and took a single dose of LSD all at the same time. Following a couple of speeches, local musician Janis Joplin and rock group The Grateful Dead performed a free concert. The hippie counterculture, striking out against the values of the previous generation by encouraging communal living and drug use to attain “higher consciousness,” suddenly realized it could come together in large numbers.
“A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In,” organized by Haight-based artists Michael Bowen and Allen Cohen, would occur three months later on January 14, 1967. Driven by the common goals espoused in the burgeoning unrest at universities in nearby Berkeley and Stanford, the two decided to bring together a variety of performers and speakers for what was supposed to be a peaceful protest reflecting the two-word mantra of many in both throughout the hippie community and the anti-Vietnam War movement erupting on campuses: “Question authority.”
With somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people spread through Golden Gate Park, a host of luminaries in the blossoming counterculture movement took the stage. Poets Allen Ginsburg and Gary Snyder delivered addresses to the LSD-laced crowd, but former Harvard professor Timothy Leary gave the event — and, by extension, the free love movement — its slogan when he spoke about the importance of psychoactive drugs for attaining higher consciousness. Throughout the next several years, students would follow his advice to “turn on, tune in, drop out” across the US.
Derided as “kooks” by local newspapers, the counterculture movement was unable to gather much in the way of mainstream attention for months. However, when college students on spring break began streaming to Haight-Ashbury — arriving in vast numbers during the Summer of Love in June — the ideas of sexual revolution, recreational drug use, cross-cultural acceptance and liberal politics flashed brightly on the international scene.
The song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie, inspired by the events, rocketed to the top of the charts. Soon spreading like wildfire around the globe, it led to similar hippie-like expressions in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal and other major metropolitan areas throughout North America and Europe, even becoming the anthem for rebels during the 1968 uprising in Czechoslovakia.
Also On This Day:
1514 – Pope Leo X issues a papal bull against slavery
1761 – The Third Battle of Panipat comes to an end, the last battle solely between native armies on in southern Asia until 1947
1784 – The Treaty of Paris, bringing an end to the American War for Independence, is ratified by the United States Congress
1875 – French physician and philosopher Albert Schweitzer is born in Kaysersberg, Germany (now in France)
2004 – The “five cross flag” for the Republic of Georgia is used again for the first time in five centuries
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January 14 1784 – The Treaty of Paris, Bringing An End To The American War For Independence, Is Ratified By The United States Congress