Joe Iconis’ new musical, Love in Hate Nation, is set in a small juvenile detention center in Connecticut during 1962. In discussing his setting, Joe says, that “the show tells the story of young people caught between eras of a changing America and their attempt to break out of the boxes society has created around them. The early sixties were really the last time that Americans could stick their heads in the sand and pretend that these changes weren’t happening.”
Indeed, 1962 marked a significant crossroads for the United States on a number of fronts. Although a number of equal rights and counterculture movements began in the mid-1950s, the majority of the country stubbornly held onto the ideals of family, establishment, order, and country cultivated during WWII and the post-war years. The 1950s and first three years of the 1960s saw major strides in racial civil rights including the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which desegregated schools (at least on paper), Dwight D. Eisenhower signing the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked by Rosa Parks. The LGBT community began mobilizing in new ways around burgeoning ‘homophile’ organizations such as The Mattachine Society (1950), ONE, Inc (1952), and The Daughters of Bilitis (1955). As the United States entered into the conflict in Vietnam, a small number of individuals began expressing condemnation of the country’s violent involvement in global affairs.
Between 1963 and 1969, however, the cultural shifts occurring in this country became difficult to ignore. Because of the Baby Boom after WWII, there were more teenagers and young adults than any era beforehand clamoring to rebel from restrictions set by their parents. Advancements in science such as the birth control pill and mass-produced penicillin helped instigate a culture of free-love and recreational sex. Drug use from marijuana to psychedelics became more popular. The government relaxed censorship laws that once restricted how artists could express themselves, leading to more radical material being created.
Bold ideas surrounding women and their roles in family and business began to gain popularity. Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, lead the charge in critiquing what she called “the cult of domesticity” that for years mandated that “a woman’s place was in the home.” Instead she claimed that, “if women do not put forth, finally, that effort to become all that they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their own humanity. A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that small score of years in which her body can fill its biological function, is committing a kind of suicide.”
Television also changed the way everyday Americans engaged with world events. The war in Vietnam dominated news channels, giving people new windows into the horrors of war. As disapproval for the war grew, protestors around the country took to the streets to express their disapproval. Perhaps most notably, on October 21, 1967, an anti-Vietnam demonstration took place at the Lincoln Memorial involving over 100,000 protestors, followed by a smaller demonstration at the Pentagon later that day. A number of prominent figures supported the anti-war effort including Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. Many musicians likewise used their platforms to express their displeasure over the war such as Nina Simone, Phil Ochs, Barry McGuire, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger.
Media outlets also gave ordinary homes more access to the ever-growing civil rights battles erupting across the country. In 1962, fighting erupted at Ole Miss between southern segregationists and state forces over the enrollment of one black student. Also, in 1962, The Daughters of Bilitis held a national convention followed by what was likely the first American national broadcast that specifically covered lesbianism. In 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized by Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, and Dorothy Height, and included an estimated 250,000 participants at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed a sweeping Civil Rights Act. In 1965, the Supreme Court established the right of married couples to use contraception. The long, hot summer of 1967 saw uprisings and violence in Atlanta, Boston, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, and Detroit. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement for black Americans, activists also began organizing a unified Chicano Movement and Asian American Movement. In 1969, the Stonewall Uprising occurred after police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The subsequent demonstrations powered the gay liberation movement in the United States.
The sustained and ever-present struggles for civil rights during this time challenged and worked toward dismantling institutions that had stood in this country for centuries. The characters in Love in Hate Nation stand at the cusp of all this profound change. For some, the future elicits fear and a desire to revert back to the way things were. For others, however, the coming revolutions offer a glimpse into a new world, in which they can be accepted and thrive as their whole unique selves.