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gather in

Central Park Be-In

Between 1967 and 1968 several "be-ins" were held in Central Park to protest against various issues such as US involvement in the Vietnam War and racism. This park was a place where all of the different types of people that New York contained could mingle.

Protest against the War

During the 1960’s America was involved in the Vietnam War. This war was a controversial one because many people were against the United State’s involvement in South Vietnam. Adding to the tension of the Americans against the war was the emergence of a generation of people who were a part of the counter-culture and believed that they should do anything possible to go against the establishment. When Central Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, this counter-culture generation decided that the park would be the perfect host for their demonstrations. [1]

New Years Eve 1967

On New Years Eve of 1967, a group of one thousand people accompanied by music and geese burned down a Christmas tree in Central park. The Parks Commissioner, Thomas P.F. Hoving, was present at the event. About this demonstration, he stated, “We're going to do this again… you know, It's old hat to go to Times Square when we can have such a wonderful happening in Central Park”.[2]

Easter 1968

The “be-ins” in Central Park became bigger as a few months later, ten thousand people gathered in Sheep Meadow. The New York Times described them as “poets from the Bronx, dropouts from the East Village, interior decorators from the East Side, teachers from the West Side and teeny boppers from Long Island” to show the diversity of the crowd. It also said that “they wore carnation petals and paper stars and tiny mirrors on foreheads, paint around the mouth and cheeks, flowering bedsheets, buttons and tights”.[3] These demonstrators ranged from entire families, to members of the Spanish community, to nuns wearing “be-in” buttons. The themes of this particular demonstration were love and the celebration of being alive. Participants in this be-in believed that people in New York were too uptight and took advantage of love and life. Throughout the day the demonstrators showed their feelings toward authority. Cop cars were covered with flowers the police were surrounded by chants of “daffodil power” and “We love cops… turn on cops”. [4] These actions were not well received by everyone in New York. One woman was heard to remark, “Isn’t the young generation awful? What are they coming to? In my generation things were never like that”.[5]

April 15

Less than a month later another anti-war rally took place as a part of “the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam”. Once again the number of demonstrators grew drastically to an estimated 100-400 thousand attendees. This peace rally, which assembled and started off in Central Park, was said to be the largest of its kind at its time. The demonstrators ranged from Sioux Indians from South Dakota to members of the African American Community all fighting for one cause, peace. There was a peace fair, which featured performances by folk singers and rock groups. People held signs that read “Don’t Make Vietnam an American Reservation” “Make Love not War” and “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger”.[6] This group of people who were against the Vietnam War made their way from Central Park to the United Nations. There, speeches were given by several leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. who declared that the war in Vietnam was a “conflict against a coloured people” and that “white Americans are not going to deal in the problems of coloured people when they’re exterminating a whole nation of coloured people”.[7] Although there were five arrests made during this demonstration, they were of counter-demonstrators who staged an Anti-Communist rally.

Later that spring the counter-culture revolution continued in Central Park but this time “Armed with electric guitars”.[8] About 450 people attended the concert.. Various bands such as The Grateful Dead performed for the gatherers who originally were scheduled to gather in Tompkins Square Park but was forced to move to Central Park. The New York Times described the attendees as “young people, some with bare feet and others wearing sandals or socks who did some moderately contortionate dancing at first. But then the pace quickly changed and soon they were jumping around like rag dolls being jerked by wires”.[9]

1968

During this year, the Peace Rally and the Easter Be-In were combined into a single event. 90 thousand people ranging from veterans to religious groups to African Americans to Puerto Ricans to Women groups to labor groups to students gathered at Sheep Meadow. Amongst the speakers at this particular demonstration was Coretta Kind Scott who spoke in place of her husband, Martin Luther King Jr. who had been assassinated earlier that year. In her speech she said “The inter-relatedness of domestic and foreign affairs is no longer questioned”. [10]

Early 1969

During this Be-In/Peace Rally, the Village Voice reported that there was said to be between 15 and 20 thousand people in attendance. This be-in became more radical than the other be-ins that previously took place in Central Park as bon fires erupted. One person described Sheep Meadow as having “the aura of a bombed out battlefield”.[11] Things became even worse when one person leapt into one of the bonfires. When he was finally pulled from the bonfires by other demonstrators, word came out that and ambulance would not arrive until Sheep Meadow was cleared. Because the crowd would not disperse, the man had to be carried through the crowd to be transported to the hospital. In addition to this tragedy, three police officers were injured when the demonstrators hit them with rocks.[12]

November 1969

In November of 1969, protesters took a different approach and organized a lie-in at Sheep Meadow in Central Park. About three thousand protesters laid out blankets on Sheep meadow and held white and black balloons used to symbolize those killed and those potentially killed in the war in Vietnam. This lie-in was met with opposition from some city officials and some members of the general public.[13] The demonstrators were met with this opposition because of the message that they were trying to get across and because of the usage of the city’s public space.

Censorship of the Be-Ins

In 1965, citizens of New York experienced their first blow against their freedom of speech as Commissioner, Newbold Morris, refused to give them a permit that they would need in order to use a section of the park for anti-war speeches. [14] Opponents of the ban called it a form of discrimination. In 1967, Parks Commissioner August Hecksher said that Central Park would no longer be allowed to serve as a venue for mass demonstrations because they were disruptive and caused damages to the park which were costly. After Hecksher was met with great opposition by protestors who help up un-authorized banners and burned draft cards in the park anyway, he decided to set up designated areas just for these types of demonstrations such as Randalls Island. As a park of the compromise made by the New York Civil Liberties Union, a separate area in Central Park was set aside for big demonstrations.[15]

See also

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