After World War II, Washington Square Park filled up with young people and musicians, their numbers growing over the years. By 1961, neighbors had had enough of the bohemians, urging the parks commission to put an end to the folk music--and to the racial mixing that went on around the bongo drums, as recounted by John Strausbaugh in his invaluable history The Village.
The ensuing protest, an occupation of the park’s large central fountain, inspired a hysterical headline: "3000 Beatniks Riot in Village."
It was also captured in the extraordinary documentary film Sunday by Dan Drasin.
In crisp black and white, we see and hear the protesters as they fight for their right to play folk songs, carrying signs that read “Keep Strumming” and “We Want Folk Singing.” In arguments with the police, one young man says, “Real estate’s at the bottom of this.” Another says, “They’re trying to kill the Village.” The musicians won that battle and kept on singing through the decades, but war is long and “They” have kept trying to change the nature of the Village and Washington Square Park.
The fight continues to this day.
Watch the film and hear more about it at NPR.