50 years ago, the Presidio found itself surrounded by a city in the process of transformation, inspired by a simple four-letter word: LOVE.
In 1967, the world really began to take notice of the cultural revolution happening in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. A growing collection of young artists, musicians, anti-war activists and countercultural icons were breaking free of traditions in every way possible – Jefferson Airplane, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan were singing about love and LSD, anti-war protests were surging, civil rights were becoming the Black Power movement.
In January the seminal Human Be-In took place in Golden Gate Park, at which Timothy Leary famously exhorted the gathered crowd to, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” In April, close to 100,000 people marched across the city from 2nd and Market St. to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park, as part of the Spring Mobilization to End the Vietnamese War. When colleges and schools let out, “flower children” began pouring into San Francisco to celebrate what was optimistically being called the Summer of Love. Caring for all the newcomers was a strain on the city, but the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic opened that summer to care for as many people as they could, and the Diggers doled out free meals every day at 4pm. The Monterey Pop Festival in June cemented San Francisco into the national consciousness as the center of this astonishingly powerful counter-cultural youth movement. Performers included Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, Otis Redding, Grateful Dead, The Who, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane.
Meanwhile, just a mile or so away, the Presidio was the staging site for many of the 536,000 US military personnel who were sent to Vietnam, and also the place where many wounded soldiers were brought home to be treated for their injuries. Dissent about the US role in Southeast Asia was growing across the country, even in the ranks of the military, and service members were often confined to base or ordered on special maneuvers to discourage them from taking part in anti-war protests.
However, the power of the anti-war movement would not stop at the gates of the Presidio. In 1968, GIs for Peace organized several anti-war protests with active duty and reserve servicemen marching at the front of the parade. In October, a large protest ended at the gates of the Presidio, where four AWOL soldiers (Linden Blake, Keith Mather, Walter Pawlowski, and Randy Rowland) turned themselves over to the Military Police. They were taken to the Presidio stockade, which was crowded with up to 140 prisoners in a space intended for 88. Over the weekend they talked with the other prisoners and convinced them to participate in a protest about conditions in the prison, and against the war. The protest became known as the “Presidio Mutiny”
One of the 27 protesters, Randy Rowland, remembers the day,
“Monday, October 14th, 1968 was a cool but clear day. The inmates stood tensely in morning formation. None of us was sure if anyone else would do it. But on cue 27 of us broke ranks and walked over to a grassy spot in the yard, singing “We Shall Overcome.” We sat down, linked arms and continued to sing. The Sgt. in charge was yelling. Moments later the Commandant arrived and tried to order us to return to the formation. We sang louder. He tried to read us the articles of mutiny. We drowned him out, pouring our souls into the song. Walter Polowski, who had agreed to be our spokesman, stood up and read the list of grievances and demands. When the Brass tried to speak, we burst into song again.” (Source)
The Presidio mutiny and the ensuing trials and sentencing of the prisoners drew national attention to growing anti-war dissent within the military. By spring of 1970 the Presidio case had gotten so much publicity that the long sentences for mutiny were reduced and the prisoners were released.
Today, the Presidio intertwines the legacy of the military and of the counterculture movement epitomized by the Summer of Love. Many of those idealistic young hippies grew into the political representatives, scientists, and advocates of environmental restoration who envisioned and created this beautiful National Park out of the former Army base.
This summer there are several exhibitions, concerts and other events planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. To help visitors plan their “trip,” the San Francisco Travel Association has launched a special website: http://www.summeroflove2017.com.