A Look Back at the Beatnik Riot

Protestors in Washington Square Park on April 9, 1961

On Sunday, April 9, 1961, what has come to be known as the Beatnik Riot, or Washington Square Folk Riot, took place (see the flashback in the Villager).  Since the 1940’s Washington Square Park had been an epicenter for folk music – a public gathering spot where the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and David Bennett Cohen could feel at home and play their music freely (see GVSHP’s Village History).  In 1961 the Washington Square Association, along with then Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris, acted on their belief that the park should be tranquil and quiet.  Police were ordered to remove “the roving troubadours and their followers” from the park.

Newspapers announced the Beatnik riot

On Sunday, April 9th, close to 3,000 “Beatniks,” including a 19-year-old Bob Dylan, came to the park to play their music in opposition of this ban.  The protest was arranged by Izzy Young, head of the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street.  A group of protestors who sat in the fountain singing “We Shall Not be Moved” was attacked by police with billy clubs.  Another group sang the Star Spangled Banner, thinking police would not attack such a display of patriotism- they were wrong.  Even the mounted police unit was present.  All in all, many were arrested and many more were pushed, shoved, and ordered out.  Eventually the ban was lifted after more protests ensued and a 1,500 person petition was signed.

Dan Drasin’s 1961 film Sunday captured the April 9th Conflict

Very little documentation remains from that significant day, other than a 17-minute film taken of the riot by Dan Drasin titled “Sunday” (which can be viewed online) and photos taken by Izzy Young.  The legacy of free-spirit and artistic creation in Washington Square Park, however, remains ever-present.

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Dana
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Dana was GVSHP's Programs and Administrative Associate from 2010 to 2013.

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One comment on “A Look Back at the Beatnik Riot
  1. Dana J. Milazzo says:

    I remember coming to the Village as a teenager and listening to the folksingers in the
    Square, and thinking I’d found nirvana on earth.

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "A Look Back at the Beatnik Riot"
  1. […] concerts and festivals and produced  Dylan’s first show.  He was also a leader of the Beatnick Riot, which Bob attended.  In fact, the Dylan song “Talking Folklore Center” is in honor of […]

  2. […] Baez has a history at Washington Square Park and it would be fantastic for her to return to perform at the park. Yet when that was attempted for […]

  3. […] From the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation site: The protest was arranged by Izzy Young, head of the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street.  A group of protestors who sat in the fountain singing “We Shall Not be Moved” was attacked by police with billy clubs.  Another group sang the Star Spangled Banner, thinking police would not attack such a display of patriotism- they were wrong.  (Greenwich Village Preservation article) […]

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