I’ve had a number of people ask about the beginning of the hippie movement. How it started. Where we came from. Made me decide to put together a page explaining just this. Some of it is from what I already knew. Some from research I did. If anyone sees anything wrong or has something to add let me know.
To do justice to the movement you first have to go back to the 1940’s after World War Two. There had been two world wars and a depression in just thirty years. There began an anti-establishment movement. People wanting to break away from societies values placed on them. The poet Allen Ginsberg could possibly be considered the father of this movement. Using the written word they began to express their frustration , protesting what they saw wrong with the world. The poetry was not always just read but often performed to music. This is probably the source of the name given them, “The Beats”. They were also referred to as “The Beat Generation”. By the fifties the movement had spread and grown. Coffee houses began to open. Places where they could meet and share thoughts. Even today there are many coffee houses that host poetry readings. Jazz clubs were also a gathering place. From these places emerged the “Beatniks”, Typically dressed in shabby clothes, sporting a beard and wearing sunglasses at all hours. The beatniks refused to conform. I can remember visiting some of my mother’s family, in New Jersey, in 1961. We went on a ride in the subways and there they were. My first exposure to beatniks. Sitting in corners with their bongos. I was fascinated. I wanted to be a beatnik. One of my favorite shows “Dobbie Gillis” had a major character named Maynard G. Krebs , played by Bob Denver. You know, Gilligan! Sadly I was only thirteen and the beatniks were already fading. The phrase “I’m Hip” was used quite often by beatniks. Their talk was said to be hip. Some even called them “Hipsters”. Thus the beginning of the Hippies.
It was the hippies that took the movement out of the coffee shops and on to the campuses around the country. Berkley became the center of the movement. There were protest and demonstrations. Angry at the injustices in this country such as racism, poverty and the lack of women’s rights, sit ins were staged. Sometimes practically taking over campuses. Many were arrested. The movement started small and grew. I believe there were two major factors in the growth of the hippie movement. Music and Vietnam have to be considered in the equation. As the war escalated, more and more young people were going to Vietnam. Students died in confrontations with the national guard at Kent State and Jackson State. It was a war that was considered unjust within the movement. Peace became a common goal and the ranks of the hippies swelled. The music took roots from the folk music of musicians coming out of the depression, such as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Singers like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie brought folk music into the sixties with protest themes against government oppression and war. They had taken the words of the beat generation to a new level. Music festivals like the Newport Folk Festival drew large crowd of like thinkers where they could not only enjoy the music but share the common goals. These festivals grew in size and number. Many areas banned the festivals because they were afraid of what might happen. All those crazy, dirty, dope smoking hippies. Who knows what they might do? It’s true that drugs were a part of the movement. For some reason drugs have been part of music for generations, including the blues and jazz performers of the 1920s and 30s. This just was the first time it spread so far. Much of the drug use, dress and such was just a part of the protest. Some, of course, were in it for the drugs alone. These were the people, that naturally, were most linked with being a hippie. Even with the protest of the establishment, music festivals flourished and the movement grew. Then in August 1969 there was a festival that changed the world. Half a million hippies joined together to make history. Woodstock was probably the high point of the hippie movement. Woodstock proved the doom and despair people wrong. For three days, all these crazy hippie lived together in peace and harmony.
I’m not sure what led to the dwindling of the hippie movement. Maybe it was the gains made in civil rights and women’s rights. Maybe it was the end of the war in Vietnam. Could be we just thought the fight was over. I know we made a difference for a while. Then it seems that during the Regan era there was a setback. We started losing the individual rights we gained. It turned from the we generation to the me generation. What’s in it for me? Whole families wound up living on the streets, homeless. Racism has raised it’s ugly head again. The Klan has begun to grow and skinhead groups are showing up even in rural communities. The Environmental Protection Agency is being stripped of it’s authority. Since I first posted my site, I have been glad to find that the movement hasn’t died. There are still a lot of old hippies out there and they’re coming out again. There are also a growing number of new young hippies with the ideals and hopes we had. I’m most proud of them and I hope their ranks will grow. We need them if we are going to survive the next century.