Boyd Lewis in 1972, power salute in front of Atlanta City Hall while anti-busing white folks parade along Trinity Street.
Publication: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Date: Jun 1, 2016; Section: Living; Page: D1
Photo exhibit, ‘Flashback,’ shows strange old world from the 1970s
Boyd Lewis’ work captures tumultuous time in Atlanta’s past.
By Bo Emerson firstname.lastname@example.org
Atlanta in the 1970s was way stranger than we remember.
The Old South pushed up against a New Age; hippies gathered in Piedmont Park and gay pride marchers ventured to Peachtree Street. A political revolution brought African-Americans into power while an economic sea change brought money to the whole region.
Boyd Lewis, once described as the “white boy with the black press,” stayed busy documenting the upstart town, as a reporter and photographer with the Atlanta Voice, the Atlanta Inquirer, the Great Speckled Bird and Creative Loafing and as an editor, reporter, anchor and producer with public radio station WABE.
Lewis recently donated 15,000 images to the Atlanta History Center, adding to a gift he made in 1985, bringing the total to 25,000 images, plus some audio tapes and other items. The fascinating exhibit, “Flashback: Atlanta in the ’70s, The Photography of Boyd Lewis,” currently showing at the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown, is drawn from this archive.
In 1997, Boyd moved to Los Angeles to teach high school and middle school. Now retired, Lewis said he found teaching as rewarding as journalism. “You’d get the fulfillment and feedback every day you walked into the classroom.”
Lewis was hired as a writer, but brought his own camera along on assignments, he says. He bought his own film in 100- foot rolls, and printed his own photos in his own darkroom, and so retained ownership of the pictures. After worrying about having the photographs lost or stolen, he decided to donate them to the History Center.
His curiosity was tireless, and the result of his watchfulness is this colorful record.
A scene from WRFG in Little Five Points, circa 1974. Bonnie was office manager of Radio Free Georgia’s first studio on Euclid Avenue and Rodger French hosted “Spam and Grits”, a radio embodiment of the music of Goose Creek Symphony (a little bit country and a whole lotta hippie). The demon child in the center didn’t identify herself, but today she’s probably a suburban matron driving her kids to soccer practice in a Ford Expedition
Kids from Emmaus House youth group at entrance of Four Corners Park, 1971. The kids were members of “Among Ourselves” mentored by Gene Ferguson, a lanky black activist who served as youth director of the Episcopal Church-sponsored community center and chapel.
As that great woodland sage Barney the Dinosaur would say, “Sharing is caring.” The generosity evident in Atlanta during the hippie period is captured in this tender moment, when one soul reaches out to another and says “Here, have a toke.” The only gateway here was the gateway to a good time. Photo in Rabun County
Roger French of the Atlanta Juggler’s Association and Deluxe Vaudeville Orchestra. He played accordion with the Last Great Jive Assed Jug Band and lived under the stairs-Harry Potter-like–of Big Shanty, the Decatur commune that terrified the coeds from nearby Agnes Scott College. He was a Navy signalman during the Vietnam War. Photo is from 1974. Presently, Rodger is on diplomatic assignment in Accra, Ghana (for real!).
Richard Powers at 1971 demonstration
Here’s the “Hippie House” in 1979 as it was before arson destroyed it. In the first floor apartment of this 1899 Victorian mansion at Peachtree and 10th, an iconoclastic woman journalist named Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind. When I lived in the Hippie House a.k.a. The Dump a.k.a. Peggy Mitchell’s apartment, I was totally alone. I was the caretaker for the abandoned building and lived there rent-free for nine months during 1977. Only gradually did I become aware of the apartment’s history. For about three months in the fall of 1976, I had rented a storefront at Peachtree and Crescent where I was going to begin a freelance photography business. Woeful choice. I was broke. So I asked Boyd Taylor of the Australian/Atlantan real estate firm Hooker Barnes whether he had any maintenance work to be done on his properties since I didn’t have the rent money. Sure, sez he. We’ve got this big old house at the end of the block we’re going to tear down and replace with a midtown skyscraper. You can stay there rent free if you make sure vandals don’t break in and burn it down. And so I became the last resident of The Dump from February-November 1977. I had two great parties there. One was in the summer on behalf of WABE when public radio superstar Bob Edwards came to Atlanta. It was an old South barbecue in the backyard with Spanish Moss courtesy of my grandfather’s place in Florida. The second was a benefit for Radio Free Georgia on Halloween, 1977. While Rodger French and Toni Shifalo juggled flaming torches in the backyard, some looped friends and I went into the abandoned and very dark third floor with a candle and the hand of a department store mannikin. We held a seance for the spirit of Peggy Mitchell or the daughter of the house’s builder, reportedly killed on the third floor by a jealous lover. The seance worked. (to be continued)
Any erstwhile hippie who didn’t know who Jon Jacobs was ain’t worth a cigar box worth of dried out seeds and stems. Jon was the legally blind photographer and writer for the Bird from the paper’s beginnings. He came South to join the civil rights movement and wound up with the underground press. He was a “red diaper baby” whose parents were 30s lefties. All are deceased. Jon helped found the last major urban commune, “Big Shanty” on West College Avenue in Decatur, across the tracks from the high school. It was home to the Last Great Jive Assed Jug Band, Elise Witt and the Small Family Orchestra, Lenny and La Banana, Berne, and Deluxe Vaudeville Orchestra and a wacky band of Irish hooligans called A Parcel of Rogues. Several founders of Radio Free Georgia called it home at one time or another. It’s also where the Atlanta Juggler’s Festival got started. I lived there for three months. God, it was great. Boyd
1973 Jan Jackson & Tom Jones w/headband were dear friends and proprietors of the Penn & 8th Zoo.
The fist of rebellion punches through the legendary Atlanta night fogs. This photo in downtown Atlanta is from 1970.
Bill Fibben ‘n’ Carter Tomassi Photo is from 1972 and shows Bill Fibben (left) and Carter Tomassi pausing from their coverage of the Piedmont Arts Festival. Both were regular photographers for the Great Speckled Bird. Fibben is dead, while Tomassi continues the picture trade.
For a solid year, maybe more, Piedmont Park became People’s Park. Entire communities set up camp in the wooded area along the concrete drainage ditch and every now and then, their campfires or carelessly discarded doobies would set things ablaze. Mayor Sam Massell was tolerant at first, then under pressure from Big Bidness, the police crackdowns began. I know of at least two freak riots in the park, one of which was televised with a cop smashing a longhair in the teeth with a billy club without provocation. If you survived, these were the good old days.
Atlanta’s antiwar protests were unusual in that they included many black protesters. Dr. King’s antiwar stance dating back to 1966 perhaps gets credit. This is where the massive May 9, 1970 Mobilization march ended up, at the state capitol. This may be the last positive thing that ever happened at the statue of that ol’ racist rabble rouser Tom Watson. By this time, whites had left the civil rights struggle to focus on the war, and many young African Americans were fixed on cultural nationalism.
Black student activism in support of hippie concerns is often overlooked. Here, students from the Atlanta University Center sing and flash the power sign at a May, 1970 rally opposing the Vietnam War, the Orangeburg Massacre and Kent State killings. It wasn’t all about white folks,
Poleece. Fuzz, Da Pig. The Man. Here are Atlanta’s finest gathered at Peachtree and 15th. They were a reserve force ready to rush down to Piedmont Park in case help was needed to quash yet another hippie musical rebellion antiwar thingy. Mayor Sam Massell tried to establish links with the hoard of longhaired dope-smoking anarchist hooligan fringe early in his administration. He even set up a police precinct on “The Strip” called “The Pig Pen” with a window mural by “J.J. of L.A.” of Rich’s-like pink pig wearing a patrolman’s cap. The cops who worked the office were really cool.
The Hari Krishnas were an integral part of the alternative lifestyle in the early 70s in Atlanta. They had banquet tables of free vegetarian food in the park during concerts and gave away incense.
Kate, my sister, in a friend’s apartment on Argonne Street, circa 1971, awaiting a Tai Chi tossing or palm reading or other such hippie nonsense. Kate left a mind-numbing job with Holiday Inn reservations in Memphis to join the circus. After assorted adventures, she wound up crashing in a women-only rental house in Virginia Highland. She’s now a respectable matron in a gated community in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Cartoon genius R. Crumb’s eternal legacy to the Freak Power movement was the slogan “Keep On Truckin” (as in “keep on truckin/truckin on down the line/ hey hey hey/ I said to keep on truckin’/ truckin’ those blues away”). A truck with a Trucker logo in Piedmont Park around 1970.
Social worker Richard Powers at 1971 demonstration. He played the conch to start nights at Rose’s Cantina and now does so at the Lake Claire Landtrust drum circles.
Two writers for The Great Speckled Bird shown relaxing on the Bird’s legendary couch. Sunshine Bright and Mike Raffauf were writers and damn fine lawyers to boot who fought the good fight to introduce civil liberties to the howling jurisprudential wilderness that was Georgia in the 60s and 70s.
Close encounters with hippie van 1971
the spring of 1971 on Myrtle Street just north of Ponce
May 9, 1970, the great Mobilization march to end the Vietnam War, where a Georgia trooper snags a longhair at the state capitol.
Longhairs pack Grady High School’s gym for a 1970 hearing by the city’s Community Relations Commission taking complaints about city police harassment of Bird sellers and hippie types along the Peachtree Strip. The hearing was chaired by the CRC’s director the late Rev. Samuel Williams, who taught philosophy to Martin Luther King Jr at Morehouse.
A longhair testifies to police harassment of fellow longhairs at a hearing conducted at Grady High School in 1970 by the city’s Community Relations Commission. The CRC was established in Atlanta following the assassination of Dr. King to provide an escape valve for racial and social tensions in the “city too
A bare chested guitarist performs an impromptu concert in Piedmont Park to an appreciative audience in March, 1974.
By these posters ye shall know the hippie pad. A child darts as a hippie mom primps for a big night out at the Great Southeastern Music Hall late one Saturday afternoon in 1971.
In this Where’s Waldo scene, try to count the totally happy people in this photo taken on a Sunday afternoon in Piedmont Park in 1971.
Two mounted cops overlook a cautious hipster in this 1971 scene in Piedmont Park
Dig the peace babe at the big antiwar march in May 1970. And the little boonie-hatted one is actually flashing the power fist! Groove upon groove.
Flag wrapped, long haired, bandannaed and a little paranoid, this couple marches along Peachtree Street in a May, 1970 anti-war demonstration.
Assorted hipsters at a folk music event in 1973. Two of these people wound up working for Ted Turner’s Cable News Network, which goes to prove the infiltration of dope-loving anarchist hippie types in the news media. What Shaun Hannity would do with this information boggles the mind.
Robert Joe Shifalo, AKA “PigIron” performs a solo on a schoolteacher’s bell in this 1973 photo. Joe, an erstwhile lawyer, died in 2009 and was remembered as the dude who got an abandoned Atlanta elementary school building and converted it to the Litle Five Points Community Center, home to WRFG, Horizon Theater, and countless artists, social activists and revolutionaries. We’ll miss you, Joe.