← Back

Tompkins Square Park, the Summer of Love, the Dead, and a Riot

During the Summer of Love, on June 3, 1967, The New York Times reported “Hippies Heighten East Side Tensions” following a confrontation the day before in Tompkins Square Park between a group of hippies and some 200 police officers along with residents who protested the hippies’ presence. The police descended on the park following complaints by locals that the hippies had congregated in the park without a permit and “were playing their bongos too loudly and too constantly.” At the end of the day, protesters, hippies and police alike had suffered injures, over 30 people were arrested, and there was an additional incident of a group of protesters who tried to strip a woman naked whom they identified as a hippy.

The New York Times, June 3, 1967
The scene at Tompkins Square Park on Memorial Day, 1967. Image via lorenbliss
The scene at Tompkins Square Park on Memorial Day, 1967. Image via lorenbliss

The idea for the Summer of Love originated in San Francisco, as young people from around the world flocked to urban centers to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” As Haight-Ashbury was the epicenter of the Summer of Love in San Francisco, the East Village was in New York City. According to housing historian Christopher Mele, about 2,000 hippies moved into old tenements around Tompkins Square Park, increasing the demand for housing and also increasing rental prices. The ‘invasion of this group was much to the chagrin of the local population which was a kaleidoscope of ethnicities and races including Puerto Rican, African American, Slavic, and Italian. Tensions between the groups and the hippies were high and clashes were frequent. Interestingly, as a way to mitigate the tensions, the police convinced the Grateful Dead to give a free outdoor concert which was held the day before the incident on June 2nd. Here is some video footage via the Associated Press: https://youtu.be/_-TUTYcCwu4

As mentioned, the next day Tompkins Square Park was a scene of violence rather than a peaceful musical concert. According to The Times article on the riot, a spokesperson for the police said that residents living near Tompkins Square Park had requested police protection “because of the ‘odd’ characters invading the area.” In that same article, they quoted a Ukrainian resident as saying, “These unwashed beatniks are terrible…don’t be surprised when our people lose patience with this dirty invasion.” Interestingly, on the same page as this article was one detailing a meeting at City Hall between some residents of the Ease Village, city officials, and several of the hippies who apparently called for the meeting to present their side.

Not everyone in the East Village was against the presence of the hippies and some merchants saw an opportunity with this influx of youngsters, many of whom came from affluence. Merchants on St. Mark’s Place created a “night mall” by closing the street to vehicular traffic from 7:00 pm to midnight turning the thoroughfare into a psychedelic dance hall. While the Summer of Love aura lingered for years after in Haight-Ashbury, that was not the case in the East Village. Many of the hippies left for more rural destinations in upstate or New England but some stayed and would contribute to the transformation of the East Village into North America’s capital of punk rock.


One response to “Tompkins Square Park, the Summer of Love, the Dead, and a Riot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *