The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification. The excerpt is long, so I’m breaking it into manageable bits and posting those bits over the next few days.
So began the 1960s, perhaps the greatest confluence of education, affluence, information, and experience in the nation’s history. The decade crackled with the energy of millions of young Americans bent on leaving their mark.
A few weeks after the Fort Lauderdale riot, a small group of black and white men and women, mostly college students, boarded a bus in Washington, D. C. and set off on a near-fatal journey to the deep south to register black voters. Their buses were attacked and burned. One freedom rider was set on fire. Most were beaten and many jailed. The freedom riders’ paths had been paved a year earlier when hundreds of men and women, black and white and mostly young, staged sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, wade-ins at segregated beaches and swimming pools, and pray-ins and study-ins at segregated churches and libraries.
In the spring of ‘62, several dozen students gathered at a camp on the shore of Lake Huron in eastern Michigan and drafted a political statement that they hoped would change, if not the world, at least the United States.
“We are people of this generation,” the statement began, “bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world . . . Many of us began maturing in complacency. As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss.”
The Port Huron Statement went on to condemn American foreign policy, racism, McCarthyism, capitalism, automation, colonialism, and the military-industrial complex — and inspired dozens of anti-war, anti-nuclear marches.
Beer inspired marches of another kind during the Fourth of July weekend in 1965. Police and National Guard troops battled thousands of (mostly drunk) young rioters in Ohio, New York, and Iowa. At Arnolds Park, Iowa, one of that state’s most popular summer resorts, five hundred pro-party agitators, “some too drunk to stand up,” took to the streets after the bars closed at one a. m.. (*6)
“Hey, punk, we’re going to take over this place,” someone yelled, and the chase was on. Revelers threw bottles, chunks of concrete, and anything else they could lay hands on, as police fought back with fire hoses and tear gas. (*7)
From Greenwich Village to Hibbing, Minnesota; from Chicago to Denver and beyond, kids flocked to coffee shops to hear guitar-strumming “folk singers.” On the music charts, shoo-bop and doo-wop gave way to youthful angst in the form of “The Sound of Silence” (“Hello darkness my old friend”) and “Eve of Destruction” (“You’re old enough to kill but not for votin'”).
Some kids joined communes and organized an alternative America. At Drop City in southern Colorado, the inhabitants built geodesic domes out of scrap material and new lives out of their imaginations. Drop City, said one founders, “was full of vitality . . . .” She and her fellow droppers “had the sense that anything was possible, that the potential was unlimited.” (*8)
*6: “650 Youths Seized as Resort Melees Erupt in 4 States,” New York Times, July 5, 1965, 1.
*8: Quoted in Timothy Miller, The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999), 33.