The End of The Bird

Demolition of the Bird House on 14th street, 1969, V000-6901-036

Underground newspapers were often ephemeral, disappearing after only a few months. The Bird was an unusually long-lived paper, operating on a shoestring budget with the help of a wide array of volunteers. Its longevity could be attributed to a stable core of staff members who dedicated themselves to reporting on local politics, culture, and social justice issues. Nevertheless, The Bird also faced the same pressures other underground papers did, and this took a toll over time.

Last issue of the Great Speckled Bird, Great Speckled Bird v. 9 no. 9 (October 1976)

As the war in Vietnam ended, resources
and public support for The Great
Speckled Bird were decreasing. They
began facing a multitude of issues.
Harassment of staff and salespeople was
commonplace, and they were targeted
both by members of the community
and the police. Legal action was a
common tactic used by cities to sap the
money and resources of underground
newspapers. For example, The Bird had
to fight charges of obscenity for their
May 26, 1969, cover.
Violent acts could also happen to
underground newspapers as was the
case when the second Bird House on
Westminster Drive was firebombed in
May of 1972. While The Bird continued
to publish unabated, the fire destroyed
much of the equipment they used to
produce the paper and impacted its
long-term financial health.
In addition, longtime contributors sought different forms of work and activism. Artists were no longer
submitting their work, and other local alternative newspapers were popping up causing it to lose its shock value. These papers also competed for limited advertising revenue. Publication fell from once a week to once a month to nothing at all. The Bird eventually disbanded in 1976.

Tom Coffin at the Celestial Voluptuous Banana concert in Piedmont Park, 1970, V003-700620-A008
Great Speckled Bird v. 9 no. 9 (October 1976)

“We created a new journalism to deal with
it—personal, participatory journalism. We milked personal experience, fragments of the whole, for all they were worth, evoking grand themes and large concepts from bits and pieces we experienced. And thereby experienced deeply, learned great truths, clarified our vision…Underground newspapers are great teachers of dialectics.”

“Bird Xmass” (Great Speckled Bird Christmas), Atlanta, Georgia, December 12, 1971. V003-711212-A34

While The Bird was alive, it unified revolutionary thinkers of Atlanta
who sought to find material solutions to racism, police brutality, sexism, homophobia, and war. Although its members moved on to different projects, they were better prepared from their time at The Bird.