Hampton Beach Project -- The Riots of 1964 -- Commentary

The Riots of 1964 -- Chapter 12


Project Director's Report
Paul Estaver, Director


For the most part such observations and comments as are germane may be found at various points throughout the text. A few more, perhaps, should be added in this concluding note for emphasis or clarification.

The experiment at Hampton Beach, N.H., was termed a pilot project. Hopefully, many of the mistakes made in the course of this experiment need not be repeated elsewhere.

At the outset of this project one of the hypotheses to be tested was whether indigenous personnel could effectively carry through from concept to actuality. The answer would appear to be affirmative on two conditions: first, that such personnel have adequate training and advice; and secondly, that they are really indigenous to the community. Although Stone had lived in Hampton for six years, he was still, particularly in terms of New England, a newcomer. Van Nostrand had been here a somewhat shorter time, and I least of all. Especially none of us were part of the Hampton Beach community as distinct from the village of Hampton. As a consequence none of us were familiar enough with local politics and personalities to know where and when community support had to be summoned.

With the young people, it made no difference. Many of them, of course, were not from the community at all, and particularly in a summer setting, young people are quick to make new friends and to welcome new personalities.

To some extent, leaders both in the Chamber of Commerce and in the town of Hampton did become strong backers of the Project's concepts, but in important instances other leaders either were never drawn into the Project sufficiently or were included too late so that their function became a negative rather than a positive one. In most small communities or cultures such as those of Hampton and Hampton Beach, there are leaders numbering from one to perhaps a dozen who, through political or economic strength, or simply through the strength of personality, can carry community opinion. If such leaders are not contacted early and drawn into support of a given project, no number of hours' debate in the forums of town meetings or Chamber of Commerce meetings will carry the day.

Sufficient comment has been made on the summer staff of the Project. Their work in gathering the research data was, for the most part, excellent. Their tasks in the demonstration phase of the program were beset by a number of difficulties which could be avoided in future projects, particularly if the level of their participation and a clear idea of their day-to-day activities could be spelled out in advance. A few days of careful training and orientation at the beginning would have saved many hours of wasted time.

The question might properly be raised whether young adults in their early twenties, sufficiently trained to administer interviews of this nature and to work with the resultant data are inclined to be less than excellent in working with young people on a day-to-day basis in the demonstration phase of the project. Our experience, at least, indicated that those most effective in research were least inclined to identify with the young people and vice versa. Perhaps it is unusual to find an effective social worker who is equally as effective in the role of a sociologist.

The most important question raised by the Hampton Beach Project was that of the function of the teenager and the young adult in American society. One of our basic documents on this subject for the summer was the article entitled "Teenagers Are An American Invention," by Bennet M. Berger in the New York Times magazine of June 13, 1965. A copy of this article is included in the Addenda. In effect, Dr. Berger states that there is no real function for this major segment of American society, and that the unrest seen among American young people can result.

It was the responsibility of the Hampton Beach Project to see whether a creative function and various combinations of pleasurable activities could help to overcome this problem in a resort society.

To the extent that the young people were permitted to take a leadership role or to carry out such a project as Big Brother Day, they responded eagerly. To the extent that they were allowed to have parties, songfests, and dances, they not only responded but proved that internal control was possible, significantly so on the occasion of the two dances on the sand and the beach party of August 7th.

To the extent that they were contained by police action, they were cautious - and resentful. Obviously the price to be paid in fines and possible imprisonment with its complications in academic life were sufficient to keep them under control or simply to make them stay away from Hampton Beach. However, there remains a serious question whether a social structure is in proper balance when one major segment of it requires heavy policing to maintain order. In terms of Hampton Beach, only future years will determine whether the problem of youthful behavior was solved or contained.

It would seem that much could be gained from a continuation of this project at Hampton Beach and that much would be lost if it were abandoned. However, if it is to be carried forward, a way must be found to achieve harmony among the various official and quasi-official bodies in the town. The community leaders must reach a consensus on the theoretical function of such a project and on the specific issues to which the theories lead.

Finally, in a community like Hampton Beach whose prime function is commercial, there must be an understanding that the end product of a stable youth society will be beneficial to the economy. So long as young people, in Hampton and elsewhere, feel disenfranchised, they will continue to be a problem and must be dealt with as such. When they can be made to feel that they are an important and functional part of any culture, the problem will diminish.