Washington Square Park Folk Riot

Since the 1940s, folk musicians have gathered in Washington Square Park (visited on our Central Village/ Soho Tour) to sing and play instruments. It’s a tradition that continues today–thanks to the bold actions of a few Village musicians. 

In 1947, the demands of the neighborhood’s working class residents led to the city requiring musicians to have permits in order to perform. In the spring of 1961, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris denied a permit with no explanation to Izzy Young, the owner of MacDougal Street’s Folklore Center, a popular hangout for musicians such as Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk. 

On April 9, 1961, Young led 3,000 musicians and supporters into the park to protest the commissioner’s ruling. They sang “We Shall Not be Moved” and The Star-Spangled Banner in and around the fountain in the center of the park. Ten protesters were arrested and many more were beaten by police in what is now referred to as the Beatnik Riot, or the Washington Square Folk Riot. Only after subsequent protests and a 1,500 person petition was the ban lifted. Thanks to their efforts, musicians can perform freely in Washington Square Park without a permit today.

Below is the documentary entitled “SUNDAY” featuring live footage from the event.

Click HERE to listen to an NPR interview commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the riots including first-hand accounts of the day.

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