Massive black rebellions, constant strikes, gigantic anti-war demonstrations, draft resistance, Cuba, Vietnam, Algeria, a cultural revolution of seven hundred million Chinese, occupations, red power, the rising of women, disobedience and sabotage, communes & marijuana: amongst this chaos, there was a generation of youths looking to set their own standard – to fight against the establishment, which was oppressing them, and leave their mark on history. These kids were known as the hippies. There were many stereotypes concerning hippies; they were thought of as being pot smoking, freeloading vagabonds, who were trying to save the world.
As this small pocket of teenage rebellion rose out of the suburbs, inner cities, and countryside’s, there was a general feeling that the hippies were a product of drugs, and rock music; this generalization could have never been more wrong. The hippie counterculture was more than just a product of drugs and music, but a result of the change that was sweeping the entire western world. These changes were brought about by various events in both the fifties and the sixties, such as: the end of the “Golden Years” of the fifties, the changing economical state from the fifties to the sixties, the Black Panther Party, women moving into the work force, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr.
and John F.
Kennedy Jr., the war in Vietnam, the Kent State protest, and finally the Woodstock festival. The electric subcurrent of the fifties was, above all, rock’n’roll, the live wire that linked bedazzled teenagers around the nation, and quickly around the world, into the common enterprise of being young. Rock was rough, raw, insistent, especially by comparison with the music it replaced; it whooped and groaned, shook, rattled, and rolled.
Rock was clamor, the noise of youth submerged by order and prosperity, now frantically clawing their way out. The winds of change began to sweep across America in the late fifties. The political unrest came with fear of thermo-nuclear war and the shadow that had been cast by Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The civil rights leaders were unhappy with President Eisenhower’s reluctance to use his powers for their cause, in spite of the fact that the nation was becoming more receptive to civil rights reforms.
With black organizations becoming more militant, Eisenhower needed to acknowledge the growing movement, and govern accordingly. World politics were still dominated by the conflict between the capitalist nations, led by the USA, and the Communist countries, led by the USSR. The bonds that were keeping people loyal to their leaders were breaking down. In 1960 there was a major split between Russia and China.
The Chinese decided that the Russians were betraying Communism and set off on what they hoped would be the world revolution against capitalism. During the fifties, the economic situation was in a constant state of growth. The United States were prospering and the government was clinging to the “golden years.” The rise of the giant corporations had a profound effect on American life.
A few hundred corporations controlled much of the nation’s industrial and commercial assets and enjoyed a near monopoly in some areas. The mega corporations dominated the seats of economic and political power. They employed millions of workers, a large percentage of whom populated the suburbs that were growing across the country. The changing American economy also experienced dramatic shifts in the composition of the work force.
Fewer workers went into traditional fields such as manufacturing, agriculture, and mining, and more went into clerical, managerial, professional, and service fields. In 1956, for the first time in the nation’s history, white collar workers outnumbered blue collar ones, “and by the end of the decade blue collar workers constituted only 45 percent of the work force.” The sexual composition of the work force also changed as more and more women entered the labor market. The influx of women into the work world that had been accelerated by the Second World War continued in the postwar period.
The political groups, and the negative feelings that they harbored towards the present administration, only kindled the flames of revolution. The previous generation was clinging to the “good times” of the fifties, and the youth were looking for a niche to call their own. With the drastic change in child population after the Second World War, divorce became less taboo. As a result, single mothers were forced into the labor market, and with these jobs came independence.
The 50’s and all its political, and social change, was only the breeding ground for the free thinking generation that was to follow. In America, a group of militant blacks called the “Black Panther Party” had been dubbed “American’s Vietcong.” They were tired with the roadblocks and discrimination that were plaguing the civil rights leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King.
They decided to get equality by whatever means necessary. Their members had been involved in shoot-outs with the police, which were, by the radical community, dress rehearsals for the coming Armageddon. The hippie movement was new in the early 60’s, the men only beginning to grow their hair long and some of them still wearing suits, the women as yet uncertain about fitting in. The introduction of the television in the 50’s brought a new information medium to the general public.
With television, people became more informed, and developed individual opinions, instead of the bias opinions that were “spoon fed” to them by newspapers, radio etc.. The youth began to break free of the shackles that were the fifties. They considered their parents conformists , and they wanted a way to break free of the molds cast for them.
As a reaction to the growing violence of the 1960’s, many people turned to the ideals of peace and love. Ironically, many of those who were seen to be in favor of peace – including President John Kennedy, his brother Bobby, the black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and many unarmed civil rights workers – were themselves murdered. The horrors of the war in Vietnam dramatized what many saw as drift towards destruction, and their reaction was to seek a genuinely peaceful way of life. Across the world, youth took up the slogan “Make Love not War”, and the Love Generation emerged.
Many of these were hippies – people who dropped out of conventional society to take up a lifestyle based on peace, loving relationships and often mystical religions. Many more who were not fully hippies were influenced by their ideas and fashions, especially using the soft drug cannabis and the hallucinogenic drug LSD. “The New Era” referred to Kennedy promising vigorous attempt to manage a world whose old stabilities had broken down. Kennedy received credit for recognizing that international and domestic crises required an active response, even if that response was “mediating, rationalizing, and managerial,” a policy of “aggressive tokenism.
” Abroad, the new frontier had the virtue of working towards “political stabilization” with the Russians; it was deeply committed to avoiding nuclear war – although Kennedy showed no interested in general disarmament. Meanwhile Black Americans took President Kennedy at his word and pressed for civil rights against racial discrimination. On 20 May, 1963 , “400 federal marshals (government policemen) had to be sent to Montgomery, Alabama, after a peaceful demonstration by black people had been attacked by a mob of 1500 whites.” Local police had refused to act, even though this was the third attack on blacks in a week.
“On 21 May, 1963, 100 whites attacked the church where the black leader, Martin Luther King, was preaching. The demonstrators continued despite this when black Freedom Riders, calling for civil rights for blacks, marched through Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans. 27 Black freedom Riders were arrested when they arrived in Jackson Mississippi.” On 12 June 1964, the President Kennedy sent a Civil Rights Bill to Congress, which, if passed, would make equality a legal right.
“On 28 August, 1964, between 100,000 and 200,000 black people, led by Martin Luther King,” marched in Washington in support of the Civil Rights Bill. But the violence still did not stop. In September, 1964, a black man was shot dead in Alabama, four blacks were killed when a church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed, Medger Evers of the Advancement of Colored People was murdered, and six black children were killed when a house was burnt down. Kennedy had been a controversial President.
Many Americans opposed his support for black people, while others were angry at his failure to kick the Communists out of Cuba. The extreme right wing had threatened to kill him, but no one took these threats seriously. Kennedy had been warned it was a dangerous to drive through the streets of Dallas in an open car. The President felt that he should be able to drive openly anywhere in the country, and few people expected trouble.
On 22 November, 1963 as Kennedy drove slowly through crowd-lined streets of Dallas in an open car, together with his wife, Jackie, and Governor Connally of Texas, three or more shots were fired at the car. Kennedy was shot through the throat and head, and Governor Connally was also hit. The President’s driver immediately raced for the Parkland Hospital, with Jackie Kennedy covered in her husbands blood cradling her husband’s head. With those fatal shots, came the end of “Camelot” as his administration was referred to as.
On April 4 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. That night, eighty riots broke out. Federal troops were dispatched into Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, and Wilmington. “Chicago mayor Richard J.
Daley, ordered police to shoot to kill arsonists and the main looters.” The actions by Richard J. Daley, were a sign of respect of King. Ironically, a year before, Daley was against having King speak in the city of Chicago.
King’s following had fallen off in the years leading up to his death. His moment had passed. Since the triumph of his Slema campaign, which climaxed in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he had turned to the urban poor, but his strategy of nonviolence, national publicity, and coalition-building seemed unavailing. Just a week before his death, his hopes for a non violence march in Memphis, in support of striking garbage workers, had been dashed by the window-smashing of a few dozen black teenagers.
King had become a hero without a strategy, but a hero he undeniably was at a moment when the larger movement craved heroes and disowned them with equal passion. For liberals, even for many black militants and radicals, he was the last black hope. When he was murdered, it seemed that nonviolence went to the grave with him, and the movement was “free at last” from restraint. There are times when an entire culture takes the shape of a single event, like rows of iron fillings lined up by the force of a magnet.
What is assassination, after all, if not the ultimate reminder of the citizen’s helplessness – or even repressed murderousness? Instantly the killing creates an abrupt contest between Good and Evil, albeit with a wrong ending. With the enlightened establishment’s great men gunned down, a self-proclaimed black revolutionary gunned down, there was an eerie feeling among the common people, a democracy of sudden death. The southern civil rights movement had been deeply bloodied, of course. Dozens of blacks were killed in the urban riots of the North from 1964 on, and, as we have already seen, the riots of the North inspired the white radicals to start a movement of their own.
These radicals would take the form of the “Hippy.” In 1954 Vietnam had been divided into the Communist North, under Ho Chi Minh, and capitalist South, under Ngo Dinh Diem, after the Communists had forced the French to abandon Vietnam. Since 1954 a guerrilla force, the National Liberation Front (know as the Vietcong), backed by the North, had been gradually gaining strength. The United States had been sending arms to Diem since 1954, and in 1960 President Kennedy decided to send American military advisors to South Vietnam to train Diem’s army.
Just as the black movement was fighting for equality and civil rights, the hippie movement took on the fight against the drafting of young men to Vietnam. Many protests were staged throughout the 60’s to end the war, especially the “March to End the War in Vietnam” held at the Independence memorial in Washington, 1965. During 1965, the Vietnam War intensified. The USA put more and more effort into it, and the South Vietnamese government’s lack of control became apparent.
In August it was estimated that the Vietcong controlled a quarter of the country, the government about half and the rest was not controlled by anyone. In the Vietcong area, the Communists had taken land from the few rich landowners and given it to the many poor peasants. This obviously made them more popular with the peasants. The south Vietnamese army was now too weak to fight the Communists, and the US decided it would take over the fighting leaving the Vietnamese to defend the land they controlled.
The war in Vietnam increased trouble in America. Blacks pointed out that black soldiers in Vietnam suffered unfairly: “10% of the population of the United States was Black, 12.5% of the American army was black, 14.6% of the battle dead was black.
On 23 April 1967, Muhammad Ali called the war “a race war. Black men are being cut up by white men.” On 28 April 1967, Muhammad refused the call-up to the US army. The World Boxing Association stripped him of his world title, and on 21 June 1967, he was found guilty of avoiding the draft.
Muhammad Ali was given a five year jail sentence, and appealed. By the first of August 1967, so many black uprisings had taken place during the ‘Long Hot Summer’ that a map had to be produced to show where they had taken place. 1967 had been the year of the hippies, peace and love. 1968 was a year dominated by violence and ideas of revolution and change.
It was the year of New Left – socialists who rejected both capitalism and communism – whose ideas inspired students revolt throughout the world. The New Left argued that violence was caused by capitalism, and the continuing, escalating war in Vietnam, where the most powerful capitalist force was waging war on a small Asian country. As the Students moved to the Left, and the youth movement grew, so did the idea of fighting back against the State. The idea of a single world revolution, grew.
On April 30, 1970, President Nixon ordered the “incursion” of Cambodia, with this announcement the students went into action. By May 4, 1970, a hundred student strikes were in progress across the country. At Kent State University in Ohio, students burned down the ROTC building. On the same day, National Guardsman at Kent State responded to taunts and a few rocks by firing their M-1 rifles into a crowd of students, killing four, wounding nine others.
Kent State was a heartland school, far from elite, the very type of campus where Nixons “silent majority” was supposed to be training. After these and many other violent incidents at protests, the intensity of the movement began to dwindle. The great changes that they were fighting for were not coming about. The protests were not getting any sympathy or support, and greater numbers of hippies left the protests and adopted a “peace and love” side of things.
The climax of the hippie movement was in Woodstock, 1969. It was where all of the violence and aggression of protesting was laid aside and the true ambiance of the 60’s was expressed. Woodstock, in June, had been the long-deferred Festival of Life. So said not only Time and Newsweek but world-weary friends who had navigated the traffic-blocked thruway and felt the new society emerging, half a million strong, stoned and happy on that muddy farm north of New York City.
Both critics and fans concede that Woodstock has become part of the mythology of the 1960s, even if the actual event did not necessarily represent the musical or political taste of most young Americans at the time. Some say it symbolized the freedom and idealism of the 1960s. Critics argue that Woodstock represented much of what was wrong with the 60’s: a glorification of drugs, a loosening of sexual morality and a socially corrosive disrespect for authority. Whether one is a supporter or a critic, it is undeniable that Woodstock was one of the major climaxes of the hippie movement: a culmination of all of the peace and love ideals in one place.
After Woodstock, the movement was on the downswing. One could argue that Woodstock was the grand finale, with the seventies arriving soon after it and there was a general “been there, done that”(interview) mentality which created the seventies, a decade of disco, and doom, never quite living up to the intensity of the sixties. The 1960’s, then, did more than just “swing”. Many of the values and conventions of the immediate post- war world were called into question, and although many of the questions had not been satisfactorily answered by the end of the decade, society would never be the same again.
In conclusion, the hippy culture arose as a result of vast political changes occurring in North America and beyond and not as a result of drugs and music. The drugs and music were a by-product of the hippy culture, but by no means a reason for it’s occurrence. The previous pages cite the more relevant political and social milestones, which, I believe were directly responsible for the evolution of the hippy culture. These milestones affected everyone, one way or another, either directly or indirectly.
They changed the way people thought. You would be hard pressed to find someone over the age of about forty-five who, to this day, cannot remember what they were doing the day Kennedy was shot, and how they were affected by it. The sixties simply evolved; a microcosm of numerous political and social change that swept the then current generation. The hippies were simply reacting to changes in society and, in reacting to these changes, left an indelible mark on the history books of our time.
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