By Harold Michael Harvey
“Son, I’m glad you are not here this summer, they’ve got these long haired, hippy type fellows all over the place, they are smoking a funny cigarette that smells like burnt rope, and the white girls are running around naked,” the voice of my mom said on the other end of the telephone. I’d just finished a shift at the old Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs, Virginia where I had helped to accommodate the party of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, I think, or some such politico, as they were always dropping in for lunch or dinner .
It was Independence Day 1969. I was away from home earning money in the summertime for fall college expenses, as my mom had done when she was my age. The summer before, on the heels of the twin assassinations, I’d read at the family barbeque, Fredrick Douglass’ epic diatribe “What is the Fourth of July to the American Negro?.” My family was perplexed as I’m sure Douglass’ audience must have been.
Mom was not describing Woodstock. That “happening” would occur the following month. She was describing the crowd gathered at the behest of Phil Walden, an enterprising music promoter, who had produced what was billed as the Atlanta International Music Festival at the site of a motor speedway 120 miles south of Atlanta in Byron, Georgia. Byron is about 20 miles south of my hometown of Macon.
News of the concert and naked white girls spread in the region fast. “They got I-75 blocked off and you can’t get to Fort Valley,” my mom continued to lament the fact she could not visit her two sisters in Fort Valley.
Boy, did I wish I was home. That was all I could think about as mom brought me up to date on all I was missing. Not only did I miss the precursor of Woodstock, I also missed an opportunity to meet the afro-haired young woman I would later marry. She was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta and drove down to Byron with other Spelman sisters. What would have become of such a meeting had we stumbled upon each other in Byron? Would we be here together after 28 years? We were destined to meet ten years later. When we did meet she answered two important questions for me: What was “Byron” really like and what made Spelman College a “Packard” school?
But these are stories for another time. What is important about Byron is that it set the groundwork for Woodstock. It is the first venue where the famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix performed his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” giving meaning to Douglass’ speech, which I had delivered in Macon a year before. Hendrix would perform the national anthem for the second time a month later at Woodstock, and receive such acclamation that he extended his time upon the stage and began to play in free style far longer than his gig was suppose to last.
What then was this “happening” called Woodstock. It was more than three days of peace, love and music. It was the birth of a nation. Young people who opposed a war their elders had gotten them into, came together and proved that a half million Americans could co-exist with limited resources by extending a helping hand to their fellow humankind. It was as if the people had returned for a second sermon on the Mount to learn they were expected to display the lessons learned from the first sermon.
Through the rain, mud, sun and heat, they cared for each other and created such a strong bond among themselves, that it extended to other like minded humans who were not present in a way “Byron” did not. This bond created a statement heard throughout the land which said this country belonged to the young as well as the old.
A year before, a rumbling of this energy that exploded in upstate New York, had check mated a sitting United States President, causing Lyndon Baines Johnson not to seek re-election.
Following Woodstock, this energy targeted the War in Viet Nam. It became a loud and vocal advocate for peace. There was unrest in the land, young people were demanding answers and none were forthcoming. The nation’s sagacious new president, Richard Milhous Nixon, before buckling to the drumbeat for peace summoned the “silent majority” of Americans to turn a deaf ear to the protest raging in the nation.
Did the “silent majority” exist? Surely they must have existed amongst the “anyone over 30" set who were members of our greatest generation. They had faced up to Hitler from the east and Japan from our west. The oldest baby boomers in 1969 were a mere 23 years of age. The greatest generation was less inclined to vocalize their support for governmental action. Yet they voted and fought with their baby boomer offspring. A generational divide appeared. Each side went off to do their own thing and no one watched government for nearly two generations, until a baby boomer born of the Woodstock nation decided he wanted to be president.
Health Care Reform was much discussed and debated in last summer’s presidential cycle. No one in opposition at that time seriously believed the forty-fourth president would be Barack Hussein Obama.
He is. And central to his platform for economic revival is lowering the cost of health care. How do you lower the cost of health care?
His idea is to create competition for the insurance companies in order to encourage them to lower their costs to protect their business interest. Obama’s health care plan provides that Americans can elect to be covered by private insurance or by an insurance plan funded by the federal government.
Not very much socialistic about that proposal. Competition is “as American as apple pie” as Huey Newton was fond of saying in the late 60's. Yet critics on the fringe, who themselves are baby boomers, are yelling their lungs out that the government is rapidly heading down the slippery slope of socialism, if not already there.
Where then are the people who support Obama on Health Care Reform? Do they exit? Is the entire nation afraid the United States is in bed with the Kremlin?
Support, perhaps comes from the new “silent majority,” Woodstock nation baby boomers who know what it is like to win a forty year non violent revolution, “live and in living color.”
(c) August 16, 2009