Nancy and I got married in June of 1967, the so-called “Summer of Love,’’ a magical time with its promise of peace, enlightenment and fellowship among people.
We exchanged our vows on a muggy Saturday morning in a Chamberlain church while other young people headed out for San Francisco, wearing flowers in their hair, holding “human be-ins’’ in city parks and listening to Joplin and the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. We didn’t go to San Francisco, but we were kindred spirits with those travelers. We were the people who believed our generation would do great things, would make the country a better place for everyone.
I truly did believe we were going to fashion a nation with liberty and justice for all. We just needed to work harder, believe more deeply, love more intensely. We were the future, the “whole generation with a new explanation’’ Scott McKenzie sang about.
Nancy and I were married only a few years after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed. Those were great strides toward the equality that people spoke of in rallies and on marches from California to the New York Island, from the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. The times, they were a-changin.’ You could feel change in the air, and you could sense the energy of a young generation as we boldly pushed ahead, so certain we were fulfilling the promise contained in the words United States.
We were so sure of ourselves we began to caution each other not to trust anybody over 30. If our parents and grandparents had been paying attention to the kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, they’d have known what ahead. They might not have understood, but they’d have been told. Bob Dylan had warned our mothers and fathers that their old road was rapidly aging, and they needed to “get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand.’’
We were all about peace and love and mutual respect and understanding, but as I think back, I can see there was an edge to our message, a disdainful intolerance for those who didn’t think as we did. I suppose I was as guilty of that as the next young person, but even in those heady days of our new adulthood, I believed we could sway the other generations to our way of thinking. Make the message clear enough, and soon everyone would be wearing flowers in their hair, whether they were in San Francisco or San Antonio.
The Summer of Love and all it implies was never as close as I then believed, of course. For a number of years, unrest and inequality had been boiling near the surface, spilling over from time to time in cities from the South to both coasts. Conditions in the country were neither as tranquil nor as promising as some of us believed.
In fact, as McKenzie sang about gentle people having love-ins, Barry McGuire sang about the “Eve of Destruction.’’ In his vision, the Eastern world was exploding. Kids who didn’t believe in war were toting guns. The Jordan River had bodies floating. Red China was filled with hate and so was Selma, Alabama. A handful of senators didn’t pass legislation. Marches alone couldn’t bring integration. Human respect was disintegrating. People could hate their next door neighbor as long as they didn’t forget to say grace.
All of those conditions from half a century ago were wonderfully condensed into the lyrics of some of the more memorable songs of my younger years. Some of those songs ran through my head over the Independence Day weekend. I find myself of late feeling the nation has never been so divided. Looking back, though, the ‘60s apparently were nearly as divisive a time. We simply didn’t have talk radio, 24/7 cable television and social media to spread the fear, hate and divisiveness so instantaneously and universally
I believed in the promise of America as a young man. I still believe in the promise, but it isn’t easy. We have so terribly much hard work to do to keep the promise — and the country — together.