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The Great Speckled Bird:

The Great Speckled Bird

Collection Summary

Repository: Georgia State University Library, Special Collections and Archives, Atlanta
Creator: Atlanta Cooperative News Project
Creator: Atlanta Progressive Media Foundation
Title: The Great Speckled Bird
Dates: 1968-1976; 1984-1985; 2006
Quantity: 4.25 linear ft. (in 17 boxes)
Abstract: The Great Speckled Bird was one of several underground newspapers that appeared in the United States in the 1960s. Published in Atlanta from 1968 to 1976, the Bird (as it was commonly known) stood out among the alternative press for the quality of its writing, its cover art, and its fearless opinions and reporting on a range of topics—local government, politics, women’s issues, gay liberation, abortion, music, art, etc.
Identification: L-Periodicals_GSB
Language English.


History of The Great Speckled Bird  

      Published in Atlanta from 1968 to 1976, the Great Speckled Bird was one of the longest-running and highest quality            underground newspapers of the era. Reporting on both politics and popular culture, the Bird, as it was commonly known,       linked left-leaning activists and rebellious youth throughout Georgia and across the South.

      The Great Speckled Bird, named after a traditional folk song of the same name made popular by country musician Roy       Acuff, originated among Atlanta's small community of New Left activists, particularly those associated with Emory       University. After publishing an anti–Vietnam War (1964-73) newsletter on Emory's campus during the fall of 1967,       graduate students Tom and Stephanie Coffin met that December with students from other local colleges, as well as with       regional political activists, in the hopes of creating a multicampus underground newspaper. The talks resulted in the       formation of the Great Speckled Bird.

      The first issue was published in March 1968, and the newspaper became so popular with the Atlanta New Left and       countercultural communities that within six months it went from being a biweekly newspaper to a weekly publication. A       large part of its appeal lay in the variety of stories it published. While many other underground papers dealt solely with       politics, the Bird also allotted space to the counterculture. A typical issue would contain a story about antiwar protests       alongside a review of a recent rock concert. It frequently published articles on the women's movement, abortion, racial       issues, and gay liberation.

      The organization and leadership of the newspaper reflected the leftist politics of the time. While editors reviewed and       corrected stories, the decisions regarding which articles to publish were made during the weekly staff meeting, where a       popular vote determined the paper's content. Staff members would also rotate in and out of the various editor positions       on a semi-regular basis. Former Birdstaffers believe that this approach kept internal conflicts to a minimum while helping       to maintain the high quality of journalism for which the paper became known.

      The Great Speckled Bird staff relied on a network of volunteers to sell the newspaper on street corners, college       campuses, and in high schools. The radical content of the paper and the "hippie" dress of the volunteers often led to       harassment from local authorities. Atlanta police, for various reasons, arrested people selling the newspaper on street       corners, on charges ranging from jaywalking to distributing pornographic material. City building and fire inspectors       routinely visited the house on Fourteenth Street in which the staff worked, and schools banned the publication from       their campuses. In 1972 the Bird's offices were firebombed.

      By the summer of 1970 the Great Speckled Bird had become the largest paid weekly newspaper in Georgia, with a       circulation of 23,000 copies. That number declined, however, over the next several years, and by 1976 the newspaper       experienced severe financial difficulties. Several factors contributed to the Bird's problems, including the disappearance       of the Atlanta counterculture, the loss of advertising revenue, and internal squabbles among the staff.

      Despite efforts to keep the newspaper afloat, the final issue was published in October 1976. During its eight-year       existence, the Great Speckled Birdsymbolized and spoke for the New Left and counterculture in Georgia and the Deep       South. It maintains a place of significance in the story of America's underground newspapers.

      The historical note was taken from the New Georgia Enclyclopedia. More information can be found at the Great       Speckled Bird website.

Related Material

Related materials in other repositories:
Great Speckled Bird Records, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Related materials in this repository:
Tom Coffin Photographic Collection, Special Collections and Archives, GSU Library

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the Georgia State University Library online catalog (GIL). Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.
Social movements -- United States -- Newspapers.
Atlanta (Ga.) -- Newspapers.
Fulton County (Ga.) -- Newspapers.
Document Types
Underground newspapers -- Georgia -- Atlanta

Administrative Information

Please cite the Great Speckled Bird according to standards set forth by common style guides such as the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers or the The Chicago Manual of Style.   
Acquisition Information
Issues of theGreat Speckled Bird were donated by Stephanie and Tom Coffin (L2004-05; L2008-14) and Steve Wise (L2011-03), all of whom were involved with running and writing for the paper.

Special Collections and Archives

Special Collections and Archives
Southern Labor Archives

Phone: (404) 413-2880
Fax: (404) 413-2881

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Georgia State University Library
100 Decatur Street, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-3202

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Library South, 8th floor

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