The Great Speckled Bird: Researching Georgia’s Radical Press and the New Left

Amanda Stafford is a PhD student at the University of Leeds in the UK. Her research looks at the interconnected histories of the radical press and the New Left in Georgia between 1968 and 1976.

I was awarded a Stuart A. Rose Short Term Fellowship back in 2020 at the height of the Covid lockdown and so I was delighted to finally have the opportunity to visit Emory to explore the archives of the Atlanta underground newspaper, The Great Speckled Bird.

The Great Speckled Bird was launched in Atlanta in March 1968, by a collective of Georgia activists and became the largest and most significant underground newspaper in the South until its demise in 1976. Although a complete run of The Bird is easily accessible via a digital archive held at Georgia State University, researching the internal workings of the paper has been challenging because it was the victim of a fire-bombing attack in 1972 which destroyed most of the administrative archive. The collections held at Emory have enabled me to fill some of the gaps in my research and have added depth and nuance to my work.

I was most excited to explore The Great Speckled Bird records and they offered an intriguing combination of material, drawing together papers from founders Tom and Stephanie Coffin, The Bird’s ACLU lawyers Al Horn and Reber Boult, and Bird staffer Roger Friedman. It was amazing for me to get to look at some hard copies of the paper having only ever dealt with the digital Bird!

The legal communications and transcripts of the various court cases brought against The Bird by the City of Atlanta were particularly illuminating. The transcripts of court testimonies provided a window into the world of the paper at the height of its popularity, detailing the structure of the decision-making process and the culture of debate and self-enquiry which was at the heart of The Bird collective. These records also showed an important connection between The Bird and the Atlanta ACLU where Bird staffers Nan Orrock, Stephanie Coffin, and Anne Jenkins worked in clerical roles, and exposed the extent of the campaign against the paper by the City.[1] Furthermore, the collection shows how The Bird was part of a network of underground newspapers taking legal action to challenge censorship in prisons as part of a wider national campaign.[2]

Volume 1, Issue 1 of the newspaper. Image courtesy of Georgia State University.

The Bird’s financial records were also revealing and show how The Bird used its money to support radical print culture in Atlanta. These records show for example, that the paper used its funds to support the Sojourner Truth Press. The Sojourner Truth Press was a radical lesbian feminist printing collective incorporated by Bird staffers, Sally Gabb, Nancy Jones, and Marjorie Kaufman.[3] This small radical feminist press was important in the early establishment of feminist working practices and the regular work that came with doing the pre-print preparation of The Bird, provided the collective with a stable, regular income which was important in enabling them to establish themselves as a small radical press in Atlanta and take on other movement print work.

Another collection which proved fascinating were the Eliza K. Paschall papers. Paschall was, at that time, a prominent liberal voice in Georgia who was active in a range of organisations.[4] Her papers shed some light on the early history of The Bird and show that she was approached as part of an initial fund-raising drive to coincide with the publication of the first issue. Although it is not clear if she contributed seed funding to the paper, she did go on to write a weekly column for The Bird from its inception until 1970. Her presence shows the breadth of progressive voices within The Bird which helped it to engage with a broader audience, reaching beyond the countercultural and activist community to “people who [were] not involved in the movement”.[5] Paschall’s papers are particularly interesting because they predate the firebombing and provided me with some interesting artefacts from the early days of the paper and provided evidence of The Bird’s early activity amongst Atlanta’s progressive community. Further to this, Paschall’s correspondence with The Bird’s Women’s Caucus sheds light on the local women’s liberation movement in Atlanta between 1968 and 1970.[6] This material shows how the generational and ideological dynamics at play in the national the movement played out at a local level.

Looking beyond material directly related to the Great Speckled Bird, I also explored Richard L. Stevens papers which proved to be a fascinating collection of material covering a huge array of southern leftist activism during the 1960s and 70s. The Stevens Papers exposed the relationship between The Bird and the Southern Student Organising Committee (SSOC) as well as the role of Bird staffers in the wider movement in Atlanta. It was interesting to see the extent to which The Great Speckled Bird was sponsoring protests and small activist organisations in the city and on campus.[7]

Although I am still in the process of unpacking my findings, the archival material at the Stuart A. Rose Library has been crucial to my research. The material has provided an important primary source base for my project which has enabled me to go beyond the textual analysis of The Bird itself to get behind the text and into the internal workings of the paper. In exploring this material, I have gained great insights into the dynamics of the wider Left in Atlanta during this period and the place of The Great Speckled Bird within that movement. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit Emory to explore this fascinating collection.


[1] Great Speckled Bird Records, MSS 967 Box 5 Folder 5, Great Speckled Bird et al vs. Leroy Stynchcombe et al, 1969-70.

[2] Great Speckled Bird Records, MSS 967 Box 3, Folder 6, Correspondence.

[3] Notice of Incorporation of the Sojourner Truth Press, The Great Speckled Bird, June 12, 1972, p.24.

[4] Although she was known as a liberal during this period, Paschall’s activism switched to the right as the 1970s progressed. She was active in Phyllis Schlafly’s campaign against the ERA and worked for the Reagan Administration during the 1980s.

[5] Steve Wise interviewed on ‘Notes from the Underground’, CBS 60 Minutes, Broadcast January 1971.

[6] Eliza K. Paschall Papers, MSS532, Box 83, Folder 2, The Great Speckled Bird, Correspondence, 1969-1970

[7] Richard L. Stevens Papers, MSS 520, Box 21, Folder 2, Southern Student Organising Committee.