When my husband asked me to write a book on the 1960s and the hippie counterculture, my first thought was; ‘are you mad? Do you know how much research that will involve?’ When you write any work of fiction, particularly one set in the past, you must get your facts right. I could not have Solomon and Petula standing on Pier 39 admiring the sea lions in 1966, as they were not there until the 1990s.
What made the hippie counterculture of the 1960s special?
Economically, it was a time of prosperity between 1961 and 1969. The rate of poverty fell from 22% to 12% and unemployment stood at 4%. Television began broadcasting in 1947 and by 1970 96% of households had a TV. Programmes reflected a simpler life with traditional values of family and neighbourliness. During times of significant change, it is not unusual for at least some of the population to look back with nostalgia.
What were these social changes? Between 1965 and 1970, the number of women working outside the home rose from 17% to 35%. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 gave women equal rights with men and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 put discrimination against women on an equal foot with race.
Students and the counterculture
Students adopted left-wing politics as a path to self-discovery and the assertion of individuality. They wanted more participation in democracy and better relations with third-world countries. For them, a nation is judged on how it treats its minorities and the poor. On the 17th of April 1965, Paul Potter, of Students for a Democratic Society, led the first anti-war protest in Washington DC. He argued America was putting the nation’s wealth ahead of human value. The previous October at the University of California Berkeley’s Sprout Hall, a student was arrested after failing to show ID. This was part of a campaign to stop students from distributing political leaflets. On the 2nd of December, students staged a sit-in and when they refused to disperse, 800 people were arrested. In 1966, draft boards could take students with low grades. By March 1967, the House Armed Services Committee threatened to end college deferment completely if protests on campus did not cease.
The drafting of students and the protests at Sprout Hall allowed me to bring out the consequences of the Vietnam War for my characters and the people they knew.
What did the hippie scene look like?
The Beat Generation of the 1950s were the artists and poets of North Beach. Their influences came from black jazz musicians and the Civil Rights Movement. Hippies congregated in the low rents district of Haight Ashbury, they were bright, colourful and their music was rock and roll. Several venues opened to cater for the growing music scene. On the 4th of July 1965, Tom Donahue opened Mothers. Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane opened the Matrix on the 13th of August, with the Lovin’ Spoonful playing Longshoreman’s Hall for the first time on the 2nd of October. The two most significant venues were the Avalon run by Chet Helms, who introduced Janice Joplin to Big Brother and the Holding Company and Bill Graham, who took over the Filmore in March 1966. In common with most young people, my characters listen to music and the Avalon and the Filmore were the perfect settings.
The HIP stores
The Haight-Ashbury district had several shops, including the Blue Unicorn coffee shop at 1927 Hayes Street. It provided food, music and art with a piano, sofa, second-hand clothes, sewing kit and a chessboard. Chet Helms organised Wednesday evening poetry readings and the Sexual Freedom League also held their meetings there. On the 3rd of January 1966, the Psychedelic Shop opened, selling Indian paisley fabrics, incense, cigarette papers and dance posters. After being refused membership to the Haight Ashbury Neighbourhood Merchants Association, they formed the Haight Independent Proprietors. Other shops now entered the area such as The House of Richard, In Gear, Mnasikz, the Blushing Peony, Wild Colors and Far Fetched Foods. After the closure of the Blue Unicorn, the Drog Store Cafe and the I/Thou Café opened along with Tracy’s Donuts. There were also Annex 13 books, City Lights Book Store, The Print Mint and Indian Imports International. We take shopping for granted, but it grounds us in everyday life. If you need to change your clothes to look more hip, where do you go?
Outdoor meetings and music
On the 6th of October 1966 LSD was criminalised and the Oracle, Allen Cohen’s hippie paper, arranged The Love Pageant in the Panhandle. Seven to eight thousand people turned up, along with a TV crew and newspaper reporters. Another party in the Panhandle happened on the 31st of January, entitled ‘Death of the Old and Birth of the New.’
A much larger event took place on the 14th of January 1967 at the polo fields which they called ‘The Human Be-in.’ The HIP stores closed for the day and people made the two-and-a-half-mile walk with fruit, flowers, feathers, tambourines and symbols. As many newsreels show, both the meeting in the panhandle and the Be-in were colourful extravaganzas. They form an important visual experience in the book, with accounts from both Solomon and Petula.
On 21st of June the day of the Summer Solstice, over a thousand people gathered on Twin Peaks overlooking San Francisco to watch the sunrise. Afterwards, they made their way down to Speedway Meadows where the Diggers had roasted a lamb and people planted paper flowers in the shrubbery.
The diggers established a free store on Carl and Cole. Also, advertising-free stew in the panhandle as a response to the number of people coming into the area. A job co-op was established at the back of Wild Colors to give newcomers a way of earning money and reduce the panhandling. In January 1967, the Diggers moved to 520 Frederik and later into 848 Clayton and 1775 Haight, turning them into crash pads for newcomers.
Why did the hippies conflict with authority?
Conflict with authority was almost inevitable when the counterculture comes up against the established norms and values. How people react and change to accommodate these differences is a way of moving the story forward.
Chalk drawing on the pavement around Alvord Lake had been going on since 1966, but it became illegal on the 8th of January 1967. On Palm Sunday, a chalk-in was organised on the panhandle with 200 artists.
On 17th March 1967, The Recreation and Parks Commission stated no one could sleep in the park from sundown to sunrise or erect any structure.
Eight teams of health inspectors descended on the Haight and over the week they inspected 1400 buildings and served 65 notices, of which only 16 belonged to hippies. It forced the authorities to admit that things were not as bad as they thought. However, the Diggers’ place at 848 Clayton had 15 violations, including missing interior doors and dog shit on the floor.
They banned live music from 9 pm to 7 am. The day after, five guitarists set up in a second-floor apartment at 609 Ashbury and 400 people attended despite the rain. On the 20th of August, they banned music in the park after residents complained about the noise. The marching of 230 people on McLaren Lodge, office of the Park and Recreations Department, saw the ban lifted.
Returning runaways and the death of hippie
By June 1967, the Juvenile Justice Commission was returning 200 minors a month to their families. The Regional Youth Adult Project, sponsored by the Methodist Church, The Glide Foundation, The United Church of Christ and the San Francisco Council of Churches, was set up to help. On the 18th of June, they opened a clearing house for runaways at 42 Broderick Street with the name Huckleberry’s for runaways.
After the death of a hippie in October 1967, the shops closed and in February 1968 there was a violent confrontation with the police. Dr Smith of the Free Clinic went to give aid to a youth who was knocked unconscious. The police chased him off. Time Magazine in 1967 described hippies as advocating altruism, mysticism, honesty, joy and non-violence. It compared them to children in their fascination with bright shiny beads, bells and flowers. They summed up the hippie ethos as “Their preferred aim is nothing less than the subversion of western society by flower power and force of example.” On the 12th of January 1967, a press conference was called at the Print Mint. Jerry Rubin proclaimed that hippies and radicals had a common aim in creating a new community where new values and human relations could grow. The Commune is another book.
If you would like to read Love & Haight, Solomon and Petula’s story about their experience of San Francisco In 1966 or any of the other books in the Peaceful series you can buy them from Amazon.