The Human Be-In That Inspired A Summer Of Love

By | June 29, 2022

test article image
Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg addresses the Human Be-In with hippie singers backing him up. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, USA. (Photo by Henry Diltz/Corbis via Getty Images)

On January 14, 1967, the Human Be-In was held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park Polo Fields. The event was a prelude for what was to come: San Francisco’s Summer of Love. The Summer of Love would introduce suburbia to the term “psychedelic” and would make Haight -Ashbury a countercultural symbol.

Prior to the Human Be-In, on October 6, 1966, a California law banning the use of LSD came into effect and provided the occasion for a smaller event to mark the day, the Love Pageant Rally. At the end of the event, the two organizers, Allen Cohen and Michael Bowen saw Richard Alpert (who would later be known as Ram Dass). Alpert said to them “It’s a hell of a gathering. It’s just being. Humans being. Being together.” Hence, the beginning of the name for the event. The name also combined humanist values with the sit-ins that had helped to change practices at colleges and universities, the lunch counter sit-ins that helped to erode racism, and the teach-ins.

The Human Be-In or as it was announced on the cover of the fifth issue of the San Francisco Oracle, “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In” brought more than 20,000 people together, with the goal of trying to get people from the disparate movements to become more familiar with each other and recognize their similarities. 

test article image
The poster advertising the event. Source: (Wikipedia).

The Focus Of The Event

The counterculture that was emerging had a common purpose: to encourage people to “question authority.” However, there were philosophically opposed factions within the San Francisco counterculture although they shared many of the same goals. On the one side, the Berkeley radicals wanted increased militancy in response to the Vietnam War and the U.S. government, and on the other, the Haight-Ashbury hippies wanted a peaceful protest. The event focused on their common ground: ecological awareness, personal empowerment, communal living, radical New Left political consciousness, as well as the acceptance of the use of illicit psychedelics. The poets and jazz hipsters were also rejecting “middle-class morality.”

The main organizer Michael Bowen, was a fine artist who an Italian journalist called “the father of performance art” for his creation of the Human Be-In. Attendees were asked to bring incense, flowers, animals, feathers, and musical instruments. Those in attendance consumed massive amounts of “White Lightning” LSD which “underground chemist” Owsley Stanley produced just for the event. The Diggers, a radical group of community-action activists and Street Theater actors based in Haight-Ashbury, provided 75 twenty-pound turkeys for free distribution.