The Great Speckled Bird was what unified the people living on the edge of the Great Society in Atlanta. It extended the ideas of the Hip Community beyond the physical area around The Strip and The Park, where the Hippies were to be contained. People in small towns from north Florida to Alabama, the Carolinas and Tennessee depended on it for a source of news beyond the conventional media.
We knew first hand what did and did not get reported. We had experienced civil rights, anti-war marches, labor disputes, police actions and other events, that if reported at all, were denigrated and made to sound trivial, or turned on the victims. For honest reporting we depended on The Great Speckled Bird.
The Great Speckled Bird was used like a trusted small town paper to send messages and seek like minded people for projects. It reviewed the reality people in the emerging Counter Culture experienced daily. The Bird was what made us a community.
A broadside, announcing a meeting to form a community paper, distributed on The Strip Jan. 5, 1968 – Courtesy Bill Mankin.
When you traveled, there was a network of Underground Newspapers like the Bird, Liberation News Service, which alerted you to what’s what. In the days before Internet or answering services Los Angeles to New York had to offer we had to hand out the papers ourselves
When Nixon tried to protect criminal acts by his administration and extend his power beyond the Constitution, it was the Liberation News Service that spread the facts first and aroused people. People assembled in protest over obstruction of justice for all and made their voice heard. Now all is mostly quiet and aquiescent, afraid to be accused of not wanting to keep the homeland secure, McCarthy would be so happy. Too bad for the American People of tomorrow there isn’t a source reporting news similar to The Great Speckled Bird .
Special admiration and thanks to Tom and Stephanie Coffin and all other Birdstaffers, the people whose hard work and sacrifice kept The Great Speckled Bird flying over Atlanta all those years despite official harrassment and firebombings.
The Great Speckled Bird is Online Thanks to Georgia State University Library!
Many people in the hip community made cash by selling the Bird. The Bird deal made it so you couldn’t lose money and could, by selling regularly, make a decent living by hippie standards.
Birds were mailed to me at Oxford College and I sold them in the cafeteria evenings. It was considered uncool to not pay over the stated price and magnanimously say, “Keep the change!”
Fridays I would race in my slow but steady Celestial Omnibus VW in I-20, up I-75 to the Birdhouse on 14th, to start. If I had money, I’d buy Birds. If not, they would front a few to sell, return and repeat until you had cash to buy Birds to carry wherever to sell.
Weekends I’d try to get 14th and Peachtree where the Uniform company had a lawn shaded by huge trees. People would hang out and talk to you or nap in the shade. The job was to barker Birds. You could walk along the edge of the street holding the latest cover up to see and try to catch the eye of each driver. Acting a bit for the tourists always got money.
It was always a a trip. friday and Saturday nights young, rich hipsters headed to the park would pay not 25 cents, but $5 to the “real” hippie selling Birds. Determined to be wild suburban middle aged couples where the woman wanted to “kiss a real hippie”, you’d let the husband show off by leeringly asking for marijuana by some cool, unknown nickname he had heard who knows where, and ask if it was true it was an aphrodisiac. Or pass you party favors of one style or another to be hidden under the tree until you were ready to leave. You also met a lot of good friendly folks.
Cops would come by and stop. Some decently friendly. Some on power trip staring and trying to make you nervous enough to step in the street and be arrested for “impeding traffic” even if the street was empty.
My worst experience came on my second day selling at that corner. A really fat young crewcut cop on a tricycle pulled up stopping just inches from my feet. he took his time standing up on the trike and swinging over one ham leg and stepping down. A moment to work that gunbelt around and up to where there should have been a waist. straiten his cap. Then suddenly pul;l his gun and crouch pointing it at my face a few inches away. I had grown up in a small town and until that very minute I had thought all cops were peace officers just making everyone safe. This cop changed my mind when he said a word aloud I had only seen in print before, and rarely then.