Saturday, February 25, 2012

Detroit's Plum Street Turns Sour In The Sixties

One of the quirkiest neighborhoods in Detroit's long history was the establishment of an artsy "Hippie" enclave in a depressed neighborhood just south of downtown called Plum Street. In the spring of 1967, young counter culture types, self-described as "freaks," set up head shops, clothing boutiques, alternative bookstores, and several small eateries within a two or three block area.

Among the first supporters of this area, which might be described as Detroit's answer to San Francisco's fabled Haight-Asbury district, was a Wayne State graduate named John Sinclair. John became a local celebrity when he got busted for selling a joint to an undercover agent and was sent to jail.

The group he led, Trans Love Energies, lobbied for his release and held a rally at the University of Michigan's basketball arena, attended by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. By the time the Lennons arrived late that evening, only hard core supporters of Sinclair remained.

Few people were as impressed with John Sinclair as he was with himself. His outspoken manner was one reason he was targeted by the police. He advocated the legalization of marijuana. Today, many people find it difficult to imagine what a huge story this was in the local newspapers.

I knew John Sinclair from a distance and saw him in Ann Arbor many times. He was a large man with a huge mane of hair, who stood out in a crowd and attracted a moderate following of young sycophants and musicians. John was a charismatic figure who could be verbally aggressive if challenged or disagreed with - though usually his imperious bearing was enough to keep his followers in line.

Once Plum Street started to became successful, it attracted crowds of  "tourists" from the suburbs which robbed the street of some of its charm. Worse than that, it captured the attention of a local motorcycle gang - The Outlaws. They rolled in and started taking over and roughing people up.

After a stint of bad publicity and little help from law enforcement, the Plum Street "experiment" failed and the area once again became deserted and depressed.