Pot, Peace, and Peachtree: The Counterculture of Atlanta

Sunday, January 5, 2020
3rd Floor West Promenade (New York Hilton)
Timothy Hale, Georgia State University
When people think about the counterculture in the United States, it is generally limited to two places: Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York City. However, the counterculture, comprised chiefly of the New Left activists, the anti-War movement, and anti-establishment hippies, was national and a city where the counterculture was extremely active has become relatively unknown: Atlanta.

The Civil Rights Movement understandably overshadowed Atlanta’s counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, however my research and poster will be used to bring more attention to the movement. The counterculture in Atlanta was especially unique due to the juxtaposition in the city: in neighborhoods where black leaders were convincing black youth to stay away from drugs and become active in society, many in the counterculture were encouraging both drug use and to “drop out” of society; in a city where the majority were white conservatives who praised the benefits of capitalism and supported the Vietnam War, students were growing their hair long and challenging these views against more opposition than in perhaps any other city.

The main focus of my thesis, and for my poster, is emphasizing that while Atlanta’s counterculture was indeed strong, it was also extremely limited due to battles faced on social, political, and economic fronts. Socially, the movements were limited because of the general southern conservatism mentioned above, causing them to be targets for firebombing and other attacks. Politically, they were limited because it was an election year for the next mayor of Atlanta, and both major candidates promised to “clean up” the six-block hippie district located on Peachtree Street, known as “the Strip.” The counterculture had originally been tolerated in “the Strip”, but when the announcement was made of a new business complex to be erected in the district, tensions rose and the hippies and New Leftists found themselves facing economic forces. By the end of 1969, a police riot broke out in the city and Time even printed an article on Atlanta’s “Great Hippie Hunt”. Despite these obstacles, Atlanta held one of the largest music festivals in the world at the time, over a month before Woodstock; it is from Atlanta in this time that the world got the Allman Brothers Band, one of the most influential bands in American music; Atlanta also had the third most-circulated underground journal in the United States, falling only behind New York and San Francisco; and, not to mention, the activists in the city held frequent social and political demonstrations throughout the period.

Because there has yet to be a book published on Atlanta’s counterculture, my source material has been collected from articles taken from newspapers such as the Great Speckled Bird and the Atlanta Constitution, while also using interviews conducted with people who were active in the various movements. The overall goal of my poster and academic research is to erase the counterculture from the cartoon image they have been drawn as in society, and to present them as the lasting social movement they were.
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