The Revolution Has Been Digitized

The Great Speckled Bird flies again in online archives

revolutionWhen you think of the counterculture movements of the 1960s, places such as Berkeley, Calif., or Greenwich Village in New York come to mind. But here in Atlanta, a radical alternative newspaper emerged in 1968 that became one of the leading underground papers in the country.

The Great Speckled Bird published more than 400 issues from 1968 to 1976 and brought a progressive voice to stories of the time such as the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the burgeoning gay and women’s movements. The Bird, as it was commonly known, stood out among alternative presses for the quality of its writing, along with its ornate and oftentimes controversial cover art.

By 1970, the Bird had a circulation of around 23,000 and was the largest weekly paper in the state. In 1971, when Mike Wallace profiled the Bird on “60 Minutes,” he called it “the Wall Street Journal of the underground press,” said Cliff Kuhn, associate professor of history.

“The Bird was one of the more significant examples of the underground press that flourished in the ’60s and early ’70s, and was widely known and respected around the country,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn, who penned a column for the publication titled “The History You Weren’t Supposed to Know,” says the Bird was well known for its dogged reporting on city hall and municipal politics. It also covered local issues such as pollution in Peachtree Creek, the garbage workers’ strikes of 1968 and 1970 and transportation issues.

In 2010, the GSU Library began a project to bring the Bird back to life by digitizing the paper’s entire run, creating a searchable, accessible online resource for students, historians and researchers.

Barbara Petersohn, digital projects librarian, said it took around 10 months to scan the entire run – more than 9,000 scans. Now, every issue of the Bird is easily discoverable in the library’s collection.

“People are very interested in researching these,” she said. “I’ve talked to history majors who were working on their master’s thesis about this period of time, and they were like ‘What would I have done if I had this online!'”

For historians like Kuhn, the resource provides an Atlanta-centric account of one of the most influential and turbulent times in American history.

“The ’60s and early ’70s are shrouded with all sorts of mythology, and through this, students and researchers can get an actual snapshot of the time period,” he said.

In addition to The Great Speckled Bird project, the GSU Library began work last April to digitize portions of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records, which are part of GSU’s Southern Labor Archives. Georgia State also recently partnered with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to house The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution’s photographic archives, and work has begun to digitize those images.