Digitizing Underground, Alternative, and Literary Publications from a Legendary Era

The murders forty-four years ago this month of four white students at Kent State University by Ohio National Guardsmen and two black students at Jackson State University by Mississippi state police led directly to my dropping out of college at Michigan State University and joining the Vietnam-era antiwar Movement. Before my first rent payment was due, I had attended my first meeting of East Lansing’s underground newspaper, Generation, beginning a lifetime connection to the underground press, as an activist and writer, a political organizer, and later an historian and editor.

The project that I’ve described in three of my recent posts to digitize underground, alternative, and literary publications from the fifties through the eighties is a continuation of my passion for that experience and now for my effort to preserve the most important political and artistic creations of the era and make them accessible to current and future generations of activists, artists, and scholars.

In my last post about the digital collection, I described the “cost recovery = open access” economic model that is enabling Reveal Digital, the company where I am currently working, to offer the collection to libraries at a cost of approximately 20% of what other digitizing companies would charge. In an earlier post, I listed the feminist and lesbian papers that are already on board to be digitized.

In this post, I will name some of the other newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties that are on board.

I’ll begin with the gay papers:

Ain’t It Da Truth, Chicago Gay Pride 1971, Come Out!, The Effeminist, Fag Rag, Faggots on Faggotry, Gay Flames, Gay Liberator, Gay Post, Lavender U, The Paper (Chicago, IL), Philadelphia Gay News, and Philadelphia Weekly Gayzette

And the minority papers:

Akwesasne Notes, Burning Spear, Chahta Anumpa/The Choctaw Times, Con Safos, El Machete, Freedom, Freedomways, Gidra, The Indian Progress, The Liberator, Maine Indian Newsletter, Makah Times, Muhammad Speaks, Palante, The Sentinel, Talking Leaf, and Voz Fronteriza

I’m in discussion with folks from other gay and minority papers, or waiting for them to send in their permission forms, but we are still weak in these areas because we got started on them later than the women’s papers. Lots more are on my list of papers to get but I don’t always know who to ask.

Do you know of gay and minority papers not included here that should be? More important, do you know veterans of those papers—or were you one yourself—who I can contact for permission?

Let’s talk. As you’ll see below, I have access to original issues of titles from serials collections of a growing list of libraries all over the country. Your paper’s omission from the collection is only because you haven’t yet given me the okay.

Meanwhile, other papers, representing the campus, high school, community, rank-and-file worker, prisoners’ rights, socialist, psychedelic, Southern consciousness, new age, and other underground and alternative voices of the era include the following:

The Activist (Oberlin, OH), Alternative Media Magazine, Ann Arbor Argus, AUGUR (Eugene), Austin Rag, Barb on Strike, Berkeley Barb, Berkeley Tribe, Big Us/Burning River News, Black & Red, Bogue Street Bridge, Both Sides Now, Buddhist 3rd Class Junkmail Oracle, Burning River Oracle, Carbuncle Review, CAW!, Chicago Kaleidoscope, Chicago Seed, Columbus Free Press, Connections, Counter-Spy, CovertAction/CovertAction Information Bulletin/CovertAction Quarterly, Cuyahoga Current, Dallas News, Dallas Notes From the Underground, Fifth Estate, Flamingo Park Gazette, The Flea, Free For All, Generation, The Ghost, Goob Yeak Gergibal, Good Morning Teaspoon, Great Speckled Bird, Great Swamp Erie da da Boom, The Guardian, Guerrilla: The Free Newspaper of the Streets, Helix, High and Mighty, Hundred Flowers, Iconoclast, The Indicator, Joint Issue, Kansas Free Press, King Street Trolley, Kudzu, Lansing Beat, Lansing Star, Leviathan, Life in the Great Society with Lyndon, Los Angeles Free Press, Madison Kaleidoscope, Midnight Special, Milwaukee Kaleidoscope, The Movement (San Francisco), National Guardian, Natty Dread, Nebraska Biweekly Dispatch, New Age, New Indicator, New Leaf, New Mole, New York Ace, New York Herald Tribune, No Limits, NOLA Express, North Star, Northwest Passage, Notes From The Underground, Notes From the Underground—The S.M.U. Off Campus Free Press, Ocean Beach People’s Rag, October 4th Organization, Old Mole, Orpheus,, Osawatomie, Other Scenes, Overthrow, Pack Rat, The Paper (East Lansing, MI), Paper Tiger, Peace & Freedom News, Penal Digest International/Prisoners’ Digest International, The People Yes, People’s Voice, Peoples Dreadnaught, Plain Talker, Pterodactyl, Public Eye, Purple Berries, Quicksilver Times, The Realist, Red Apple News, Red Tide, Richmond Mercury, The Rights of Man, Rising Up Angry, The Root, San Diego Door, San Diego Free Press, San Diego Street Journal, Sour Grapes, Space City!, The Spectator, The Spirit of Logos, Student Action Committee Newsletter (Philadelphia), Sun (Warren-Forest, Detroit, and Ann Arbor), Swamp Erie Pipe Dream, Swill & Squeal, These Crazy Times, The Unicorn, University Review, The View From Here, The Walrus, What’s Happening, White Lightning, Willamette Valley Observer, and Yipster Times

I have been honored to work with James Lewes, the world expert on the military underground press, who is on a mission to digitize every military underground paper from the era that was ever produced. Our collection includes approximately 200 of the papers that he has scanned, which is only a fraction of his amazing work. Eventually I anticipate that our larger collection will include all of his papers.

And we have four publications produced by the FBI in their campaign to destroy the underground press:

Armageddon News, A Handbook for Revolting Kids, Longhorn Tale, Rational Observer, and SDS New Laugh Notes

During that same period from the fifties through the eighties that brought forth the underground and alternative press, another burst of publishing was taking place in another genre. The underground and alternative press was largely political writing but included fiction and poetry. Other creative souls from the period were producing literary publications, largely poetry and fiction but some highly political, that were known as “little” magazines. While I can claim expertise in the underground and alternative press, I am less of an expert with the little magazines. However, our partners in this project are librarians at University of Buffalo and University of Wisconsin, whose collections include major holdings of these publications. They have provided me with suggested lists of magazines to include and I have gone forth to obtain permissions.

Among the literary journals on board so far are

0 to 9, Aion (New York), Amazon Quarterly, Amphora, Aphra, The Archer, Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion, Audience, Audit, Bezoar, Birth, Black Maria, blewointment, Bombay Gin, Bread & Roses, Bread&, Broadway Boogie, Bulletin from Nothing, Burning Deck, Caliban, Chelsea, The Chelsea Review, Chrysalis, Cloud Marauder, Clown War, The Coldspring Journal,Conditions, Copkiller, El Corno emplumado, Credences, Damascus Road, Extensions, Free Poems/Among Friends, Ganglia, Genesis West, grOnk, Hanging Loose, Harris Review, Head, Heresies: A Feminist Journal on Arts and Politics, IKON, Imago, Io, Ironwood, IT, The Little Mag, Little Square Review, Living Hand, M, Maelstrom, Mag City, Magazine, Magazine of Further Studies, Margins, Matter, Meatball, Milk Quarterly, Modern Occasions, Mother: A Journal of New Literature, New Wilderness Letter, Niagara Frontier Review, NOW/NOW NOW/NOW NOW NOW, The Outsider, Panjandrum Press, Poems from the Floating World, River Styx, Roof, Roy Rogers, Score, Scree, Search for Tomorrow, Sinister Wisdom, Sipapu, some/thing, Soup, Stooge, Sum: A Newsletter of Current Workings, Sumac, Talisman, Telephone, Things, Tish, Tree, Trobar, United Artists, Unmuzzled Ox, Unnatural Acts, Yanagi, Yeah, and Yowl

Our primary sources so far for the women’s publications have been the libraries at Duke and Northwestern. This means that, once I get permissions from rights holders, these libraries provide the original hardcopy issues for us to scan. We then return the issues undamaged. We pay all shipping and handling charges for the library. Buffalo and Wisconsin have provided us with original little magazines from their collections according to the same arrangement. Other libraries that are working with us so far as sourcing libraries include Michigan State University, Georgia State University, University of Texas-Austin, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, University of Washington, New York University, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (Sequoyah National Research Center), and William Way LGBT Center. We’re in discussion with others.

Our goal is to digitize a million pages in four years. Our motivations are two-fold: to preserve the most important writings of our generation, which are now hidden in dark shelves of special collections libraries and beginning to yellow and crumble with age; and to make them available to current and future generations of activists, artists, and scholars. You can check out our beta site here. It includes some 80,000 pages primarily from our feminist/lesbian and military underground press collections. As you can see, it is just a small sample of our projected collection, and the files are keyword-searchable, a vast improvement over the old non-searchable Bell & Howell UPS (Underground Press Syndicate) microfilm collection.

Thanks to everyone who has shown so much support for this project. Much remains to be done. I need your continuing support. In particular, if you were part of an underground, alternative, or literary publication from the period that is not included on any of my lists, please get in touch with me so I can bring you aboard. And if you are a librarian or scholar, please make your library an active supporter by enrolling in the collection.

In the meantime, if you missed my three earlier posts on the digital project, you can read them here, here, and here.

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Shades of Justice: A Review

When I became involved in the Vietnam era antiwar movement and the underground press after the murders of four Kent State University students on May 4, 1970, I was unaware of any major antiwar support coming out of the labor union. There was a lot, for sure, with a leading role being played by the United Autoworkers (UAW), my own union since 1992 when the National Writers Union affiliated with them. But in the early seventies, having grown up in the white-collar suburbs, gone to college, dropped out, and immersed myself in the youth counterculture, my predominant image of unions was the pro-war, hippie-hating hardhats. I read underground papers representing the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, Southern consciousness, new age, psychedelic, prisoners’ rights, military, and other voices of the antiwar movement but I never came across a rank-and-file one.

A decade and a half after the war ended, when I was conceptualizing the first edition of Voices from the Underground, I sought to recruit veterans of papers representing those voices I had read back then. I never considered the rank-and-file out of my own ignorance.

So it was good fortune, and the power of positive thinking, that when my first edition went out of print and I was unable to bring it back, I wrote on my website, “temporarily out of print.”

Paul Krehbiel ran across my site one day and called me. “Does that mean you’re going to be back in print, and would you be interested in a story about an underground paper put out by rank-and-file union workers?”

As it was, his timing was impeccable because I was at that time, another decade and a half later, hard at work updating the stories from the first edition. I said I would be interested, but I wasn’t going to take just any story. “It has to be up to the level of the stories in the first edition.”

Paul rose to the challenge. The story of New Age, a rank-and-file underground paper from the factories of Buffalo, New York, that he co-founded will be one of the featured stories in volume 3 of the Voices from the Underground Series, which has just been released.

What I didn’t know that day Paul called me was that he had only recently released his Vietnam era autobiography, called Shades of Justice: A Memoir (Altadena, CA: Autumn Leaf Press, 2008). I just finished reading it and I am pleased to recommend it.

Paul Krehbiel was born in the working-class town of Buffalo, New York, and raised in the nearby town of Tonawanda, a northern suburb of workers and professionals. His father, a Navy veteran who served in the Pacific during World War II, was descended from Germans who came to America after the Peasant Revolution in 1831. His mother’s descendants were English and Irish. “But our entire family considered ourselves American.”

An unmotivated student in high school whose counselor told him he was unqualified for anything except foot soldiering in Vietnam, he set out to prove his counselor wrong. Parlaying a talent for art into a ticket to college, he found success first at a small junior college in Florida because it was the only college that would accept his low grade point average, and then in Ontario College of Art in Toronto, one of the top art schools in Canada. But his growth as an artist paralleled his understanding of racism, sexism, and other causes that were changing society during the sixties, especially the Vietnam War. Despite loving his time in Toronto, he couldn’t snuff out doubts that he could effect change in U.S. society more effectively if he actually lived in the United States. So he transferred to the University of Buffalo.

Krehbiel explores his own evolving mindset and the changes he goes through first as a union worker in one of the many auto-related factories in Buffalo and then at the three campuses. While working in the factory, he experienced the terrible working conditions and abusive management. “I approached all of my political activism from that perspective, from then until today—from the perspective of a rank-and-file worker—which isn’t very common in the antiwar/new left/1960s literature,” he told me recently.

At the three campuses he takes philosophy, history, and art classes, reads underground papers (in particular New Left Notes, The Guardian, and The Bond, generally considered the first GI underground paper), watches the news, and seeks out ways to become involved in antiwar activities through association with political leaders and activist groups like Students for a Democratic Society and Buffalo Draft Resistance Union. He explains the demands that served as the building blocks of the antiwar movement including

  •  ROTC off campus—a movement that needs to be revived again around the country to counter the government’s accelerating race to bomb Iran;
  • Terminate Project Themis—the secret University of Buffalo research project, sponsored by the Defense Department, to devise ways for the Navy and Marines to operate under water for military purposes; and
  • Free the Buffalo Nine—a group of draft resistors whose violent arrests and subsequent trial mobilized the Buffalo antiwar community and played a major role in solidifying Krehbiel’s growing doubts about the war.

We are introduced to the cast of characters who become his friends and comrades in action. Through these intellectual and real-life efforts and connections, he develops a seasoned political analysis of why the war is wrong to support his gut-level opposition. He soon is devoting more time—even full time—to the effort to end it, even as his growing level of activism causes at least two personal love affairs to end.

So why, he laments after all of this effort and personal sacrifice, after all of the educational opportunities he and his comrades have provided the local community, is the antiwar community so small? He discovers the answer in February 1970. After one particular demonstration, police invade the student union at University of Buffalo, riot, and attack demonstrators and bystanders with no distinction between the two. Antiwar leaders call for a strike and it succeeds, three months before the nationwide student strikes that followed the Kent State murders. Krehbiel now understands that the work he and his small band of activists had been doing was indeed paying off. It only needed a spark to ignite it. The spark, as happened so often during that period—and is happening again with the Occupy Movement—was overreach by the university administration and the police, which served to radicalize so many accidental revolutionaries who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time (or the right place at the right time depending on your point of view).

Heating water one degree at a time and then finally at 212 degrees it boils and is transformed into something new. We raised the temperature one degree at a time with every leafleting and forum and demonstration, but didn’t see any change in people’s thinking and behavior until last Wednesday [when the police rioted inside the student union].

The lesson is often lost on leftist activists, who still want instant gratification and get burned out quickly when their earnest efforts don’t produce noticeable change. Pain sucks. But, as the great Wobbly Joe Hill might say if he were around today, “Don’t commiserate. Organize.” And study history so we can avoid the failures and learn from the successes of our intergenerational radicals.

What’s happening now has happened before, which is why books like Krehbiel’s are so valuable, and which is why the right wing is still trying to pretend the sixties didn’t exist. As he writes, “The war against Vietnam was foisted on the American people with a campaign of lies.” Sound familiar? Iraq. Afghanistan. Coming soon unless we mobilize now: Iran.

In the decades since the 1970 National Student Strike, it is remarkable, but not surprising, that those with great wealth and power have effectively eliminated this unprecedented protest from the history books and the public’s collective memory. And for good reason. It terrified them. They don’t want another generation of young people to learn about, and possibly emulate, an incredible social and political movement that empowered a generation.

Meanwhile, in this country, the upper class and their paid politicians attack education. Government grants barely exist for college students. Loans do but interest rates are so high students graduate with the equivalent of a home mortgage. All the while, party leaders like the nut Santorum attack the very notion of a college education, not surprising perhaps as he is the candidate who draws support from the least intelligent among us. Democracy doesn’t work without an informed citizenry. Then again, isn’t that the point of the Republican attacks against education and in favor of insane theories like that corporations are people, which brought us the Citizens United Supreme Court case? As our greatest president Abe Lincoln did not say, “Of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.” As our likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did say, “Of course corporations are people.”

Once the May 1970 student strike begins, Shades of Justice goes into fine overview format, covering the nationwide response to the student strikes of 1970 including the murders of two black students at Jackson State College, Jackson, Mississippi, and the events of the following years until the end of the war.

Included in this overview is Krehbiel’s work in co-founding Cold Steel, a youth and counterculture underground paper in Buffalo, and New Age, an underground paper directed at rank-and-file members of the Buffalo factories. Surprisingly, he skims the surface of this adventure. For that I have to admit that I was pleased because his piece in the Voices from the Underground Series covers in depth the material he skims in his book.

The conclusion is clear: For fun, read a book to piss off the Right. Start with Shades of Justice and then read Krehbiel’s story of New Age in Voices from the Underground, volume 3.

One final note: Any coming-of-age book about the Vietnam era, at least any book written by a white member of the working class or suburban middle class, has to include a narrative about how the writer’s growing opposition to the war affected his or her relations with family and childhood community. Krehbiel’s story has plenty of that drama, with arguments over the dinner table between his father and him and his mother begging him to not talk politics. Eventually he becomes estranged from his family. So I was pleased to read that “In the summer of 1974, my family and I reconciled and our family was brought back together” after five years of little contact.