News & Politics

A Gathering of the Tribes in SF


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

January 19, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 14


By Howard Smith

I received two air mail special letters and one phone call from three different San Francisco friends who wanted to tell me about an event that became what all three described as “a mystical experience.”

All week long leaflets were passed out announcing a “Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In” at Golden Gate Park on Saturday afternoon. At most 3000 people were expected but by the 1 p.m. starting time there were between 20,000 and 25,000. Some strange word of mouth thing had happened.

Thousands were in costumes, mostly of Indian or Mexican motif, but attire of every description could be found; 1890s dresses and highbutton shoes, much from the 1920s, western outfits, flowers, beads, and feathers. Many carried self-designed banners and flags and quite a lot played finger cymbals, bells, and tambourines.

Hundreds brought food in large quantities which was given in the fashion of brotherhood, which was one of the principal ideas of being there. People danced on the grass to the Quicksilver Messenger Service rock group. “Everyone was smiling and all seemed to have a friendly and genuine concern for others, freely giving oranges, fried chicken, flowers, and hand-held sticks of incense,” said one of the letters. “It was a huge throng but always gentle. You caressed your way through this crowd instead of elbowing it.”

Also present were Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lenore Kandel, Michael McClure, and Richard Alpert, some of whom had just arrived from New York. They read poetry and just talked to the crowd. If any police were present they were well hidden in the bushes and didn’t bother anyone.

The Be-In was over by 5:30 and the spirit of the day did another beautiful thing. Before pouring out of the park everyone carefully cleaned up all the trash and debris before leaving.

A minor highlight was the lone celebrant who arrived in late afternoon by parachute, silhouetted against the sunset…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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