Before “do your own thing” became a mantra for the 1960s, San Franciscans had been living that philosophy for more than 100 years.
In 1967, tour buses drove through what some visitors still call the “Haight-Ashbury” neighborhood to see the Hippies. During the Summer of Love, photos captured the so-called “flower children” dancing in Golden Gate Park. San Francisco of the late 1960s became known as THE place for lifestyle experimentation. That included plenty of sex, a new selection of drugs and some mighty fine rock n’ roll.
What is not so well-known is that San Franciscans of the late 1960s are responsible for many ideas that were considered radical then, and are now accepted as the norm. Our unique version of accepted customs blurred the lines between the traditional and avant-guard groups. By day, social activists might be protesting the Vietnam War and nurturing gay pride, civil rights and gender equality. By night, those same folks could be attending the opera and the ballet with The City’s elite, always in unique San Francisco style. And in true San Francisco tradition, politicians and corporate moguls of the late1960s were conducting what we San Franciscans consider business-as-usual – others might consider it unusual business – in the city and county by the bay.
One of the hallmarks of life in the late 1960s was the wide spread use of the tactic called “civil disobedience.” American citizens discovered that if they felt strongly about something, they did not feel obliged to meekly follow the existing rules. Patriot Benjamin Franklin was often quoted as saying, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” And college students certainly did just that.
As colleges across the country were still thinking about civil disobedience, in late 1968, San Francisco State University was erupting with what turned in to the longest student strike on record. The students’ strike issues centered on the creation of the first ethnic studies department in the nation.
During the first three months of 1969, members of San Francisco State’s American Federation of Teachers union joined the student strike due to their own labor issues, opposing then California Governor Ronald Reagan and San Francisco State President Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa. Gary James Hawkins, a professor in the Speech Communications Department, was the president of the AFT in 1968-69. He became the spokesperson for the professors on strike and a San Francisco television celebrity.
Professor Hawkins’ life was shaped by his experiences in San Francisco, and cut short by mysterious circumstances in 1986. His contribution to 1960s San Francisco history, along with other San Franciscans, are important threads weaving through the experiences chronicled from those times. Truth and Love: Finding the Soul of the Sixties introduces you to many characters who witnessed, and often helped to create, the real and untold stories from San Francisco in 1967, 1968 and 1969.