The Summer of '69
Knox County — Sometimes it takes years for you to realize the history you have lived through. Lately I have revisited 1969, especially the summer of ’69 and all the events of that place in time, and realized that this particular summer in my life was full of history-changing, history-making events; societal changes we see the results of today; and just plain unrest and mayhem, some of it meant to mock the political system of the day and some of it meant to spur whatever the cause of that particular day was.
1969, especially that summer, was full of riots for civil rights; anti-war demonstrations to call for an end to the war in Vietnam; riots for gay rights; and throughout the 60s a youthful outcry from the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) for a major reboot of the way our leaders ran the country.
Young people ran the show. Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and the Village (Greenwich Village) in New York City were the centers of their dissent. Out of those two places the hippies and the flower children stirred the pot as often as they could to see what they could make happen next. As the decade wound down it was almost as though every protestor and dissenter in the country wanted to get their last licks in.
In this blog I will discuss some of the major happenings of the Summer of ’69. I’ll also discuss some of the music.
Some of the happenings we remember were:
The August killing spree of Charles Manson and his “family,” which resulted in the death of actress Sharon Tate and others.
The Stonewall Riots in New York City
The “Amazing Mets” who won the World Series on August 14 with the amazing performances of Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver.
Category 5 Hurricane Camille which touched land in Mississippi and Louisiana on August 17, killing 250 people.
The Stonewall Riots
The Stonewall riots came about because of a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in June of ’69. That raid, one of many by police against gay bars in the village at that time, became the impetus for the whole gay liberation movement that resulted because of discrimination against gays in the Village.
The bar itself on Christopher Street, was actually owned by the Mafia. It catered to the lowest level of people in the gay community at that time: drag queens, transgenders, effeminate young men; male prostitutes; and homeless youth.
This particular raid got out of hand as the police attracted a crowd who was incited to riot. More riots followed on successive nights.
The best thing to come out of all this violence was the organization of gay and lesbian activist organizations and the myriad of gay organizations to follow in the years to come.
In 1970 the first “Gay Pride” parades took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. Today the event known simply as “Pride” has activities and parades at some point in June in most major cities in the country, to commemorate the Stonewall riots.
Man on the Moon
On July 20, 1969, man first stepped on the face of the moon. “The Eagle has landed” was heard all over the world as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended in a small space vehicle to the surface of the moon while Michael Collins, the other astronaut on the mission, orbited in Columbia. It was on this mission that we heard the now famous quote by Armstrong, “One small step for a man, one great leap for mankind.” This year is the 45 anniversary of that flight.
I heard those words along with the rest of America that evening over the loudspeaker as I was proofreading at The Hartford Courant in Connecticut:
Protestors of one kind or another would often use the space program as a scapegoat for what they saw as being wrong with the country saying, “If we can put a man on the moon, then why can’t we…” Fill in the blank.
If you ask someone who attended the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, N.Y., from August 15-18, 1969 if he considered Woodstock or putting a man on the moon to be the most important event of the summer, I bet you a lobster roll from the Keag in South Thomaston that he’d shout as loud as he could, Woodstock!
By the way, the joke about Woodstock goes like this: “If you remember Woodstock, you probably weren’t there.”
The four days of the “Woodstock Music and Art Fair: An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” as it was officially billed was one of sex, drugs and rock and roll. This August is the 45th anniversary of that event.
This festival was the epitome of how NOT to run a music festival. The 400,000 people more or less who gained free admittance to the grounds created one massive traffic jam that was backed up for 10 miles and which closed the New York State Thruway. A helicopter had to bring medical help because they couldn't get through on the roads. Many fairgoers ended up walking a good distance to get to the festival when they became stranded in the pile up. The same goes for getting home afterwards.
Those gathered at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm heard some awesome music. There were 32 acts including Santana, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and more.
The massive mess and garbage they left behind had to be cleaned up by volunteers.
On top of everything else that happened in the summer of 1969, my 10th 1959 Class Reunion from Rockland High School was held at Beaver Lodge up home. I attended. This year, in 2014 we had another reunion, our 55th. It’s the only class reunion I’ve ever missed in all these years.
Thanks for listening.
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