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Great Speckled Memories

By Jonathan Springston  Posted by Matthew Cardinale (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 6 pages)   No comments
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This article courtesy of Atlanta Progressive News.

(APN) ATLANTA – It’s difficult to talk about the leftist scene in Atlanta in the 1960's and 70's without someone bringing up The Great Speckled Bird, the leftist alternative newspaper which influenced so many minds of the time. But what was The Bird? Who ran it and how did it operate?

Atlanta Progressive News has conducted extensive interviews and uncovered vast archives of The Bird’s back issues, to explain this historical phenomenon to our progressive readers of today.

In the 1960s, there were 800 underground newspapers in the United States. Many lasted a short time, but for eight and a half years, The Great Speckled Bird told the other side that other Atlanta newspapers were afraid to touch.

In 1971, Mike Wallace of CBS’s “60 Minutes” called The Bird “The Wall Street Journal of the underground press.”

But, what does it mean?

First, the name, The Great Speckled Bird, comes from a country-gospel tune of the same name.

When the initial staff members, who were considering starting an alternative paper, heard this song in 1967, they knew they had a perfect title.

A history of controversy

The first issue came out March 15, 1968 and immediately generated controversy.

The first story was titled, “What’s It All About, Ralphie?,” a eulogy for Atlanta legend and then-publisher of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ralph McGill. The article was highly critical of McGill’s advocacy of dropping nuclear bombs on Vietnam.

This would not be the last controversy. On May 26, 1969, The Bird ran a cover that featured a muscular, bearded man holding a large weapon shouting, “C’mon and Get It Motherfuckers” against a Coca-Cola background.

A month later, Atlanta Police arrested then-Business Manager of The Bird Gene Guerrero and three paper vendors for selling obscene literature to minors and violating the city’s profanity ordinance. The charges were later dismissed. When The Bird ran the news, that they had clarified the freedom of the press in Atlanta for everyone, staffers added wittily, “I wondered what made the motherfuckers change their minds?”

The Bird had a habit of criticizing the local establishment, be it the police who harassed local hippies and Bird vendors, real estate developers, or City Hall, especially then-Mayor of Atlanta Sam Massell.

The 1972 Office Firebombing

In May 1972, an unknown assailant(s) firebombed The Bird office at 240 Westminster Drive in the middle of the night.

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Matthew Cardinale is Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He has written previously for the Sun-Sentinel Newspaper, Shelterforce Magazine, The Advocate Magazine, The San Francisco Bay View, and the Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper. He has also (more...)
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