Vote now for Best of Detroit 2021

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fifty years ago this weekend: The Belle Isle Love-In

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 6:31 AM

John Sinclair, Joe Mulkey and Billy Reid of the Detroit Artists Workshop after obtaining the license to hold the Love-In from the City of Detroit at Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien in the spring of 1967. - PHOTO BY LENI SINCLAIR
  • Photo by Leni Sinclair
  • John Sinclair, Joe Mulkey and Billy Reid of the Detroit Artists Workshop after obtaining the license to hold the Love-In from the City of Detroit at Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien in the spring of 1967.

As seemingly everybody gears up to mark 50 years since Detroit erupted in what is described as a "riot," and "uprising," and a "rebellion," we risk forgetting one of the signature events in the run-up to that hot week in July: The Belle Isle Love-In.

What's a "Love-In"? For those who don't know, it's a peaceful kind of protest that involves meditation, lovemaking, and a sprinkling of illicit substances. The term was coined by a Los Angeles radio personality, and a wave of Love-Ins quickly swept the country, as hippies sought inventive ways to protest the Vietnam War and have a little fun at the same time.

The prime movers here in Detroit were John Sinclair and his confreres at the Detroit Artists Workshop, who obtained a permit for said event from none other than the Detroit Police Department. And on April 30, 1967, thousands of hippies and fellow travelers arrived on the island for several hours of singing, dancing, and probably a little bit of doobie-smoking as well.

The Detroit Police Department also got into the act as well, bringing it the riot squad and a tactical mobile unit (precursor to today's SWAT teams) to brandish shotguns and disperse the crowd.

Or as John Sinclair put it saltily in a recent interview with us, "We'd had our maximum hippie event, and the police raided it and drove everybody off the island. So that was our relationship with the police. We hated them."

Though it's often considered a footnote in local history, especially compared to the 1967 rebellion, it was the final nail in the coffin between Detroit's hippie contingent and the Detroit Police Department.

"And when the black people rose up against the police," Sinclair says, "nobody could have been happier than us."

Police-hippie relations are sure to be a lot more sedate this weekend when a Love-In takes over Shelter 8, which is, in fact, less than a football field away from the old police station. It's planned as a sort of hippie reunion, with yoga at 9 a.m. and festivities beginning at 10 a.m., which will include backyard-type games, arts and crafts, face and body painting, merchandise, food vendors, and music. In fact, acoustic performers and poets are invited to sign in at the information table to participate.

It sounds a lot tamer than the event of a half-century ago, but it's also a lot less likely to end in a blur of billy clubs.

The Belle Isle Love-In Detroit 50-Year Reunion takes place 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Shelter 8, on Riverbank Drive between Inselruhe Avenue and Vista Drive, Belle Isle, Detroit; for more information, find the event's Facebook page.

Tags: , , , , , ,

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Most Popular

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 20, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2021 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation