The Summer of Love Turns 50

The unrest had begun in January with a Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park and was agitated in May with the release of a song suggesting visitors to San Francisco wear flowers in their hair. "If You're Going To San Francisco" was written by John Phillips of the Mama's and the Pappa's to promote his Monterey Pop Festival planned for June. Unexpectedly, without leadership or direction, the #1 song unleashed a revolution, and by the tens of thousands, young people made their way to the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco. It was summer, and there was love in the air.

Dr. Robert Thompson, a professsor at Syracuse, possessing prodigious grasp of cultural details large and small, says there was was something primal about the fascination with love that had enveloped an enormous post-war generation that was moving beyond puberty that summer of 1967. Jesus Christ was love. The word "love'" he points out, was on their posters, school lockers, notebooks and jewelry. The Beatles sang "All You Need Is Love." It was everywhere often accompanied by the iconic peace symbol. Those who started arriving in San Francisco were mostly white, well-educated, middle-class kids from suburbs, he says.

The Summer of Love did not exist on a specific day or at a specific time or place. It is estimated that by July more than 100,000 people, mostly between the ages of 18 to 24 but many on either side of that, had gathered around the streets of a San Francisco neighborhood known as The Haight, where it intersected with Ashbury. They liked music, believed in love, didn't have jobs or toiletries and ran out of money quickly. Their only reason for being there was to be their natural selves, because authenticity had become the battle cry of a generation. They rejected the Establishment and cultural norms for a display of individualism as purely American, says Thompson, as fledgling colonies rejecting their mother country. For vague reasons rarely articulated but having to do with visions of world peace and love they came to San Francisco, with flowers in their hair, and hung out for a summer.

Thompson points out that within one year the nation and that generation would be living under very different circumstances. 1968 would begin with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Johnson would pull out of the election, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, riots across the country as cities burned, the Chicago Democratic National Convention. "They went from a summer at The Haight to a summer of hate," says Thompson.

But for that one summer, with a soundtrack that included songs by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Who, the Mamma's and Pappa's and Otis Redding singing "Sitting By the Dock of the Bay," on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the city of San Francisco, love reigned.

This is the song that launched The Summer of Love

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