Portland in the 1960s: Stories from the Counterculture

By Brown, Valerie | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Portland in the 1960s: Stories from the Counterculture


Brown, Valerie, Oregon Historical Quarterly


PORTLAND IN THE 1960S: STORIES FROM THE COUNTERCULTURE

bby Polina Olse foreword by Joe Uris

The History Press, Charleston and London, 2012.

Photographs, bibliography, index. 160 pages. $19.99 paper.

Portland in the 1960s by Polina Olsen portrays a turbulent decade in one of the nation's primary counterculture hotbeds. From newspaper strikes and the evolution of coffeehouses in the early 1960s to opposition to the Vietnam War and the emergence of black power and gay rights later in the decade, Olsen attempts to show how the personal, the political, and the cultural were intertwined and sometimes inextricable.

Olsen's strength is her focus on stories gathered from individuals. She interviewed many of the significant counterculture players of the era, such as Willamette Bridge founder and editor Michael Wells, Portland Black Panther organizer Percy Hampton, and KBOO Community Radio pioneer Bill Reinhardt. The improvisational flavor of the counterculture comes through especially well in their stories, and the looseness and eclecticism of the period clearly remains one of the fondest memories for those who participated. Olsen's source material also includes newspaper accounts, scholarly studies, books, and other media. The book features numerous small, but good-quality, black-and-white posters and photographs of important locations, people, and events.

Anyone who was involved with Portland's 1960s and 1970s countercultures will find this book an enjoyable trigger for memories and a source of wider perspective than was possible at the time. Many other readers will enjoy the personal histories, regardless of whether they are old enough to have had direct experience in the counterculture.

Portland in the 1960s adds to a growing shelf of works about Portland's popular cultures, including Bob Dietsche's Jumptown: The Golden Years of Portland Jazz, 1942-1957, Tim Hills's The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom, and Matt Love's The Far Out Story of Vortex I: Part Two of the Beaver State Trilogy, along with this writer's historical study of the Portland coffeehouse scene from 1967 to 1970, published in the Summer 2007 issue of OHQ.

The history of popular culture frequently suffers from a casual approach to documentation and sourcing, often relying on "gee whiz" nostalgia and a shallow understanding of how popular culture phenomena fit into broader cultural history. …

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