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The Story

During the 1967 “Summer of Love,” Atlanta’s hippies would walk out of the south exit
of Piedmont Park, the local hippie mecca. This would place them onto 10th Street where walking west—the direction where the movement began in San Francisco—they would cross Piedmont Avenue and Juniper Street, before arriving at Peachtree Street. This intersection, 10th and Peachtree, was the epicenter of Atlanta’s hip community. Overlooking the intersection stood a massive mixed-media mural painted on the side of a building. At the center of the mural was a statue of Jesus Christ, made of plaster, surrounded by a host of multicolored, psychedelic disciples. This countercultural stylization of Christ stood at the very heart of Atlanta’s hip community, known as the Strip.

It is difficult to trace when the hippie community began in Atlanta, in large part because it is difficult to define “hippies.” This community, sometimes considered a movement, was a large, unorganized group of youths across the world who were disillusioned with the materialism of modern life. They sought to bring about a new “Age of Aquarius,” an era more creative, spiritual, and free, than had existed before. Hippies supported a myriad of sociopolitical causes, including civil rights, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation, gay rights, and environmentalism. Instead of rallying and attending marches to persuade society to adopt these causes, the true hippie ethos was to “drop out” of society—meaning, to simply not participate in society at all. The extreme manifestation of this came from those who formed communes, living out their idealized vision of the future outside of mainstreams society.

In 1967, Atlanta gained its first business establishments dedicated to servicing hippies—
an indicator that the counterculture was prevalent enough in the city to attract customers. The first of these was a coffeehouse called the Catacombs, which “Mother” David Braden opened in early 1967 in the basement beneath his art gallery, the Mandorla, located at the corner of 14th and Peachtree Streets. Originally intended to be a gathering place for local artists, bohemians, and poets, the Catacombs quickly changed to a psychedelic rock venue after the influx of hippies to Atlanta during the Summer of Love. By fall 1967, the Twelfth Gate became the city’s second hip coffeehouse, this one owned and operated by Reverend Bruce Donnelly, a Methodist minister. Nineteen-sixty-seven also marked the founding of Atlanta’s first two headshops—stores so named because they sold cannabis pipes and other psychedelic materials used to assist in “expanding one’s mind” or, as San Francisco’s pioneering psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane called it, “feeding one’s head.” These first headshops were Middle Earth and the Morning Glory Seed. In July 1967, the Atlanta Constitution, the city’s most circulated newspaper, estimated that there were between 100 and 500 hippies living in Atlanta

Most of the city’s hippies were confined to a six-block district on Peachtree Street that
began at the 8th Street intersection and continued to 14th Street. Historically, this area was known as the “Tight Squeeze,” because the roads were too narrow for two carriages to travel through simultaneously when first constructed. During the Sixties, Atlanta’s hippies gave the six blocks a new name: “the Strip.” The surrounding area came to be known by Atlanta residents and the local media as the “10th Street District” and the “Hippie Ghetto.”

After 1967, Atlanta gained all the indicators of a large hippie presence. This included
several “be-ins”—events in which various countercultural “tribes” (hippies, bikers, New Leftists, etc.) congregated to socialize with one another, take drugs, and/or discuss New Age and socially conscious ideas—held at Piedmont Park. Meanwhile, marches and demonstrations appeared in the streets and inside local businesses. By 1968, Atlanta’s underground newspaper, the Great Speckled Bird, was the most circulated underground newspaper outside of California or New York. In 1969—one month before Woodstock—Atlanta was also home to a major rock festival, which featured performances by artists such as Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin.

Atlanta’s hippies gained national attention when they fell victim to a police riot on
September 21, 1969. Known as the Piedmont Park Police Riot, the event began when George Nikas, a member of the counterculture, revealed the identity of a narc—an undercover police officer—roaming the park. The police deployed tear gas and several fights erupted between police and hippies. The riot resulted in the arrests of twenty-three people and was mentioned in Time magazine.

In the months leading up to the Piedmont Park Police Riot, tensions had been developing between the city’s “straight” society and the hip community. This is evidenced by a summer when firebombings and police raids on hippie homes and business became frequent, alongside violent clashes of drunken “rednecks” visiting the Strip just to beat up hippies. In 1970, the Outlaws Motorcycle Club—a national biker gang based in Illinois—moved in the Strip and engaged in violence with hippies and rival gangs. Reflecting a national trend, heroin and amphetamines became increasingly prevalent in Atlanta’s hippie circles the same year. Also, the extreme friendliness toward strangers by the hip community sometimes resulted in criminals joining their groups to commit robberies and rapes among their drugged “peers.” The flower children were, as countercultural musician and activist Ed Sanders famously said of the hippies in California, “plump white rabbits surrounded by wounded coyotes.”

Despite these impediments, Atlanta’s hip community limped on until 1973 when much of the Strip had been demolished for the creation of Colony Square, a building complex that included a mall, and several large residential and business complexes. Nineteen-seventy-three was also the year that the United States withdrew from Vietnam—once the war ended, so too did the hippies