Mel Lyman and the Other Side of the 1960s

(from the Bay State Banner February 15, 1967)

A large white family lives high on Fort Hill in Roxbury. Like the black community around it, it is committed to changing the American social system.
The family is actually a community of families. Boston’s young people call them the leaders of the Hippies, but to themselves they are simply “The Hill People.” Their goal is to find freedom for themselves, and to set a model for young white Americans.
A year and a half ago the first settlers moved to the hill and began to restore dilapidated homes for their families. Now there are almost a dozen couples with a total of 19 children, as well as a number of single men and women.
The Hill People have restored a half dozen houses at little expense by doing the work themselves. They have ripped out walls and salvaged furnishings and wall sections and ornate doors from abandoned homes. Furnishings are heavy velvet curtains, old-time chairs and sofas with lace throws, oriental rugs, and fine old musical instruments.
A round wooden table which can seat 2 dozen people entirely fills the Given’s dining room. Often the whole group assembles here for meals of home baked bread, vegetables, fish and salads prepared by several of the women.
Life on the hill is frugal — there are few phones, cars are old and heat is provided only by wood-burning stoves. For food, the group goes to Haymarket on Saturday nights as the vendors are leaving and collects what is left. “At first the merchants used to call us ‘damn gypsies’ and destroy the leftovers. But now they even save stuff for us. They realize we’re just like them,” explains Lew Crampton.
The community supports itself as best it can. When money is needed several members get temporary work. Now their newspaper, the “Avatar,” is helping to pay some of their expenses.
But living without financial security is an important part of the philosophy of the Hill People. They believe that what they need they will find, and that their security comes in living for the moment at hand.
“This is a way of life where you do away with everything except the moment,” says Faith Gude. “The secret is to lose everything. I have to become everything that’s going to happen. And then, the thing that happens is you. That is not something you can lose.” Astrology has had a strong influence on the entire community. “Astrology gives us a special language to use with each other,” explained Faith Gude. “We say, ‘She’s a Scorpio with a Cancer moon’, and everyone knows what kind of character that means. They also know the problems the person probably has.
“Astrology doesn’t give you the answers. It only shows you what you are really like, and what your alternatives are. The choice of how you’ll behave is up to you.”
Visitors to the Hill are astounded by the good behavior of the children. The parents are strict disciplinarians, yet are seriously concerned with teaching their children to express themselves. “The children are beautiful,” says Mrs. Dorothy Muller, a neighbor. “They are good-tempered and responsive. Last year they helped me plant my garden.”
The Hill People have a number of projects to their credit: a movie house for experimental films (Cinematheque), a discotheque (The Boston Tea Party), a corporation to handle business projects (United Illuminating Inc.), and the famous underground newspaper, Avatar. Recently they showed experimental films they had made at an Avatar benefit. In March they will give a service at the Arlington St. Church.
Those who have survived the challenge of community life are all recognized artists or professionals. Jim Kweskin is leader of the Jug Band, David Gude an accomplished recording engineer, and Eben Given an artist. Lew Crampton is an Asian scholar and political organizer, Brian Keating an artist and former professor of English and George Pepper a photographer and film-maker. Mel Lyman, the community’s patriarch, is a musician, film-maker, writer and astrologer and has lived in most of America’s avant-grade communities.
The Hill People have also become involved in the Roxbury community. Faith Gude is working with Hawthorne House on the school. Lew Crampton works closely with Model Cities and the Highland Park Council (HPC) and was a district manager in the Atkins campaign.
As a senatorial candidate for the upcoming election, he has drawn up proposals for the betterment of the wards in his district. His 7-page proposal to HPC includes recommendations for easing housing problems, for working with the Model Cities Board, for forming a non-profit private housing corporation, and for improving municipal services, recreation, law enforcement, education and health.
Despite their involvement in Roxbury, the group does not identify with the black community. “Black power is beautiful, man, and it’s good for Negroes to do their thing,” says Ed Fox. “But we’re into our own scene. They’re parallel movements.”
Last Spring the group beautified the park area around the Fort Hill monument, spreading loam and planting seed beds. Their effort has interested the BRA in taking over the beautification project itself.
For the Hill People Mel Lyman is the spokesman of the soul. He gives them spiritual direction, and initiates and guides the group’s many projects. Most of all, he challenges the ideas and attitudes of each individual, and demands honesty in their responses.
Lew Crampton is their spokesman for outsiders. He is concerned that the group be a model for others. “The country is hungry for leadership,” he says, “and for something that is clean, honest, and real.”
“The model is strength. We teach an individual to live his life with a total awareness of what he is doing so he can be a model for others.”
Many people trundle up Fort Avenue to make contact with the Hill People. Some of the visitors are dismayed and say the people talk in riddles. But other visitors say they talk with insight, out of love.

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