Taking A Stand: Anti-War Journalism and Activism

Prior to late 1967, anti-Vietnam War sentiment in Atlanta was largely unorganized and invisible to the public. With the founding of The Great Speckled Bird, this perception would change, and anti-war activists from around the city and region would find a voice in the paper. The pages of The Bird continue to testify to the importance of this movement in Atlanta and the nation as a whole.

Hiroshima-Nagasaki Days Action Committee march to bring home the GI’s from Vietnam, August 8, 1970, V003-700808-A007, Tom Coffin Photographs

Throughout much of The Bird’s original print run, opposition to the Vietnam war and anti-war activism were central themes. In addition, The Bird also addressed US militarism and imperialism, in general, over the years. Not only were Bird staffers and contributors willing to act as correspondents to document the activities of anti-war activists, but they were also deeply engaged with demonstrations, marches, and other forms of anti-war protest. In their willingness to be a part of the stories unfolding around them, the many people who made The Bird happen were much like the underground press throughout the country.

Marchers gather during an Anti-War Demonstration through downtown Atlanta, Georgia holding signs against the Vietnam War on April 18, 1970. (Tom Coffin, V003-710605-A15)

The Bird kicked off its very first issue with a blistering “obituary” for Ralph McGill, the editor of the morning daily, The Atlanta Constitution. McGill was widely admired as a reasonable, mildly liberal voice in the South. The staffers of The Bird, however, had a very different viewpoint. In his opening article, Don Speicher pointedly asks the question, “What’s it all about Ralphie?” And Tom Coffin puts it this way in his inaugural column: “On one day peace demonstrators may be attacked by such men as Ralph McGill…who next day very rationally determines that the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam may well become the only ‘reasonable’ and ‘responsible’ course for us to pursue! Insane? Obscene? And American.” Throughout the Vietnam War years, The Bird unflinchingly criticized US policy and involvement and held up the individuals and organizations who were working to stop the war. One of the services offered by the paper was dissemination of information on planned protests, marches, teach-ins, and other activist opportunities. Its reporting on the movement provided the local community of activists with a sense of community, a sense that they were not alone.

Students for a Democratic Society leader Bernardine Dohrn speaks at the Nagasaki Day rally in Grant Park, 1968, V003-680809-A018, Tom Coffin Photographs 
“Anti-draft demo” at the Fulton County Selective Service Board offices, Atlanta, Georgia, June, 1971.