Hippies in History

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), July 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

Hippies in History


Byline: Bob Hart For The Register-Guard

My wife, two daughters and I moved to Eugene from New Mexico in 2003. Conservative friends warned us about moving to a hotbed of radical thought. Eugene's national reputation was at work even in the deserts of the Southwest!

So did Eugene live up to its reputation? Popular reputations frequently involve a time lag between image and substance. But the pervasive effect of the 1960s and 1970s period of social ferment, partially defined by the term "hippie history," was alive and well in Lane County.

Every now and then current pundits make the outrageous observation that never has the country been more politically divided. Next year the nation will commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, a period of such political extremes - "brother vs. brother" - that it came to literal rivers of bloodshed. The period of the 1960s and '70s, also a period of upheaval, was not without bloodshed: urban riots, the shootings at Kent State, assassinations, marches, campus demonstrations, the burning of the University of Oregon ROTC building, draft evasion, televised police brutality at the 1968 Democratic Convention, a disgraced president forced from office, "hawks and doves," and the Vietnam War on our living room TVs. Never more divided than today? Only if one is ignorant of American history.

Sometimes it seems as if the divisions manifested in today's local politics stem directly from this latest turbulent period. Perhaps part of the explanation is that it is still within living memory - and that the counterculture legacy has been consciously perpetuated locally. You certainly don't need to be a Beaver fan to hear the University of Oregon referred to as Berkeley North!

So why have Lane County and Eugene retained strong elements of their not-too-distant past, when other areas have shed it more completely? Could it be that the hippies of the '60s and '70s who came to Eugene were a modern manifestation of an older tradition?

In the 19th century it was called settling the frontier; the pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail were trying to better their lives. A significant part of the allure was the attraction of "free" land for settlement. More modern arrivals, many from the urban areas of California, were also probably attracted by the "back to the land" aspects of the counterculture movement. Locally they were reflected by the Hoedads, communes such as Butler Green, and the organic food concerns and developing environmental awareness of a simplified hippie lifestyle.

So is recent history legitimate history? Can, or should, a history museum do recent history? To say it should not is certainly a questionable position, unless one is prepared to argue that World War II or the Civil Rights Movement are not yet history. History within living memory would seem fair game.

So what value is there in recalling recent history? …

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