Summer of love

Bygone era marked by political change, freedom


Correction: Should be "The Mamas and the Papas."

Forty years ago, in the colorful Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, an attitude of rebellion, free love and peace blossomed during what became known as the Summer of Love.

Fast forward to 2007.

The memories of the notorious summer are as psychedelic as ever for Billy Ray Garner, a 1965 MSU graduate.

MSU IN 1967

• John Hannah was president.

• Holden Hall, the last residence hall to be built, was constructed.

• Duffy Daugherty was head coach of the football team.

• Alcohol was prohibited on campus and in East Lansing.

• Students were not permitted to register to vote in city elections.

Source: MSU Archives and Historical Collections, Mark Grebner


• About 30,000 people attended the Human Be-In on Jan. 14 in Golden Gate Park where Timothy Leary said, "Turn on, tune in, drop out." The event brought together Berkeley radicals, the Haight-Ashbury hippies and centered on the Vietnam War and women's and civil rights.

• The Summer of Love took place in the Haight-Ashbury district.

• Certain anti-war protests, which attracted nearly 30,000 people, began in the business district and marched down Market Street toward Golden Gate Park. Political activists spoke, such as the Black Panthers, and performances were held by artists including Joan Baez.

Source: The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, Billy Ray Garner,


Garner moved to San Francisco in fall 1965 after being accepted to University of California Hastings College of Law. As soon as he got there - before he experienced the free spirit of 1967 - he realized things were different from the feel of the place he called home since second grade.

"Well, San Francisco of 1965 and 1966 wasn't exactly like the then - shall we say - rather uptight East Lansing I'd just left," he said in an e-mail. "When you hit San Francisco in 1965, you just go, 'We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.'"

When Garner traveled back home for Christmas in 1965, his family interrogated him about what was happening in San Francisco, and his fraternity brothers worried he'd get caught up in a newfangled way of life.

In fact, Garner did just that and assumed the Haight way of life.

"I thought, 'I really don't need this Norelco shaver anymore,' and the rest is history," he said.

He grew a beard and had hair "well over" his shoulders and was given the nickname "Smith Brother" by his friends, after the bearded men on the box of Smith Brothers Cough Drops.

By summer 1966, Garner and two other guys - one from Michigan and one from New York - moved into an apartment on Buena Vista West, three blocks from all the commotion of Haight-Ashbury.

"That summer, the Haight came alive as more middle-class rejects like myself donned the garb and started moving in," he said. "At night, one wandered Haight Street meeting chicks, possibly scoring a few more funny smokes - it was readily available and very cheap - going to new rock venues or just staying at one's pad getting … high with the help of my friends."

When that summer rolled around, Haight-Ashbury was the place to be.

"By June 1967, Scott MacKenzie, of the Mommas and the Poppas, had sung to everyone that, 'When you go to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.' And, boy, did they come," he said. "They were naive thoughts we had, that we were going to save the world.

"There was tons of marijuana, mescaline and LSD. You could take any trip you wanted, or didn't."

He recalled the many people who would visit the area to get a glimpse of what was happening.

"There were loads of young people to join us and lots of Nebraska and Michigan tourists - cameras around necks - sitting on the Gray Line buses rumbling down congested Haight Street," he said. "My former Calvinistic neighbors from East Lansing, Grand Rapids and Saginaw sat on the Gray Line and took pictures of us. We long-haired, bearded, braless, maybe topless, but oh-so-upstanding Haight residents stood on the sidewalk and snapped them back."

Garner saw numerous musical groups, such as Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane perform for free at the Panhandle on Sunday afternoons.

Although Garner was part of the carefree time, he saw a politically charged side to the summer.

"1967 was not all flowers in your hair. Our country was being torn apart by President Lyndon B. Johnson's insane war. … We of the Haight marched and protested it seemed almost every weekend," he said.

Now retired, Garner, 64, is enjoying a life in the middle of wine country in Healdsburg, Calif., but still is fond of his days in San Francisco.

"In short, the Summer of Love was a wonderful time to be 23, to be on Haight or Ashbury, to be sitting in Sheepshead Meadow in Golden Gate Park," he said.

"It was just a ball. My summer of 1967 was only the most blissful, innocent, fun summer I ever had - what I remember of it, of course."

A delayed reaction

Although the free-loving and protest sentiment was alive and well in San Francisco, East Lansing wasn't immediately impacted by the movement as other areas were, said Mark Grebner, Ingham County Commissioner and political consultant for the East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting.

"The '60s didn't really get to East Lansing until the early '70s," he said. "It happened first in San Francisco, Berkeley, New York, then Ann Arbor, then East Lansing. I'm sure in Wichita it took longer.

"1967 was cutting edge - we just were not cutting edge."

Grebner saw East Lansing and MSU evolve since he visited his brother, who went to school here in the late '60s. Although he didn't begin his undergraduate studies until 1970, Grebner was right in the thick of things when MSU and East Lansing's political landscape changed during the '70s.

Slowly, however, the conservative city of East Lansing was becoming loose with its rules, Grebner said, adding that East Lansing didn't permit alcohol until 1969, and students weren't allowed to vote until 1971. The city also adopted a $5 marijuana ordinance in 1974.

He was part of that change when he and his friends, who unofficially called themselves The Hacks, began winning political positions on the county's commission and East Lansing City Council.

"Authorities lost the ability and confidence to do or say anything," Grebner said.

It was in 1969, however, when Walter Adams was president of MSU, that a noteworthy political event happened.

Grebner described Adams as a "liberal democrat" and "part of the scene" when it came to the hustle and bustle of political movement on campus - he remembers Adams accidentally leading a protest.

"Students would knock on the door (of Cowles House) and demand things," Grebner said. "Students demanded to know if he was against the (Vietnam War), and why he wasn't doing anything."

The students asked if Adams would march to the Capitol with them, and he said he would participate on one condition - if he could hold a small American flag. They agreed, so Adams marched.

As it turns out, it was more than a few people who marched, and Adams was the lead.

"There were 10,000 people in the street singing songs and carrying signs. He was in the front, leading the march, which he didn't mean to, with his tiny flag," Grebner said.

Although a change eventually occurred in the city and university, it never actually measured up to the height of Haight-Ashbury's peace and love summer.

"We were quite aware out here things had really changed in East Lansing," Garner said. "But it wasn't to the same degree."

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