The Human Be-In That Inspired A Summer Of Love


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. 

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.

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It Was A Peaceful Day Of Poetry, Speakers, And Music

The day did not follow a set program. Gary Snyder used a horn to get people’s attention before he sat cross-legged on the “stage,” which was a flatbed truck and a gas-generated amplifier. He and Allen Ginsberg led the crowd in Hindu chanting. Lawrence Ferlinghetti recited poetry, and Timothy Leary, with flowers in his hair, invited the crowd to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” as he had begun saying the prior year. Other speakers included Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), Alan Watts, and comedian Dick Gregory. There were also musical performances by bands including Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Blue Cheer.

There was no police present, so the Hell’s Angels acted as “security,” in addition to distributing refreshments from a station wagon. Because they were well-organized and had walkie-talkies, they also helped to return lost children to their parents. At the end of the day, the attendees cleaned up after themselves, and, as police later reported, they had never seen such a large group leave an area so clean. Ralph Gleason, who would later co-found Rolling Stone, wrote that the event was “an affirmation, not a protest…a promise of good not evil. This is truly something new.”

National media coverage of the event helped to lead to the movement of large numbers of young people to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. In July 1967, a Human Be-In was also staged for Denver. Hoping to harness the energy of the San Francisco, Chet Helms, and Barry Fey developed the event to promote their Family Dog Denver, the new Family Dog Productions venue. They had 5,000 people in attendance, and the Grateful Dead performed at the event. Similar Be-Ins happened around the country, even in areas like Fayetteville, Arkansas. It also seemed that many gatherings became an “-in, ” from Bob Fass’s Human Fly-In four weeks after the first event, to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In which aired a year later to the first “Yip-In” at Grand Central Terminal, the “Love-In” at Malibu Canyon, and, of course, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Bed-In” in Amsterdam.