A Gathering Of The Tribes

Human Be-In


Today (14th January) marks the 50th anniversary of the Human Be-In, an event at San Franscisco’s Golden Gate Park that saw a widespread countercultural awakening amongst the disaffected student communities around San Francisco State University, City College and Berkeley and was a turning point in the transition from beat to hippie culture for many people including Allen Ginsberg. It was the event that brought the term ‘psychedelia’ to San Fransisco’s suburbs, feeding the burgeoning scene in Haight-Ashbury, a neighbourhood that would become the centre-point of this growing youth movement.

New ideas and ideals were forged in the park’s polo ground, rejecting the spiritually redundant mainstream and “middle class morality” instead looking towards things like personal empowerment, communal living, higher consciousness (lyserically-induced in many cases), forward-thinking politics, environmental awareness and the ethos at the heart of the hippie movement; love, peace and unity.

This was represented in the event’s name, a play on the words ‘human being’ and ‘sit-in‘, referencing the widely growing practise that had emerged in the late ’30s and early ’40s as a means of resisting the racist manifestations of the segregated system. Sit-ins proved successful, dissolving segregation in numerous establishments. Moving into the sixties, The Greensboro sit-ins in North Carolina that took place on 1st February 1960 spread across the South and turned the nation’s attention to the scale and depth of segregation in the USA.

Timothy Leary

It was at the Human Be-In that Timothy Leary famously proclaimed his mantra: “turn on, tune in, drop out”, which inspired a generation of seekers to look beyond the narratives fed to them from above and tread their own path through life. More than 30,000 flocked to Golden Gate Park, significantly more than any previous countercultural gathering, so the message quickly spread.

The Human Be-In also featured radical thinkers, beat poets and psychedelic luminaries like spiritual teacher Richard Alpert AKA Ram Dass, environmentalist essayist and poet Gary Snyder, civil rights activist Dick Gregory, erotic poet Lenore Kandel, anarchistic theatrical group the Diggers, playwright Michael McClure and social activist and anti-war leader Jerry Ruben. Music came from Quicksilver Messenger Service and Grateful Dead, who had emerged out the creative network forming in Haight-Ashbury. The Be-In was featured on the front page of the San Fransisco Oracle – a cult underground newspaper operating out of the hippie stronghold during its psychedelic boom.

San Francisco Oracle

The event would set the tone for a unprecedented year of artistic, spiritual and social realignment. Find out more via The Nation.

Here’s a selection of classic cuts from the psychedelic era of the mid-late ’60s…

Human Be-In