The Underground Press in Michigan

The underground press in Michigan rose and declined in a very short time, but for a decade or so, beginning with the founding of The Fifth Estate in 1965, dozens of underground papers were published in virtually every major city in Michigan. During that turbulent period, the underground press was in the vanguard of public opinion on many of the issues that seemed to threaten the social fabric of the country: Vietnam, drugs, women's liberation, sexual freedom, high school students' rights. Coverage of these issues in the underground press reflected and influenced the opinions and activities of college and high school students and young workers, a segment of society that had previously been ignored by the establishment media.

The controversial literature published in the 1960s and 1970s ranges in viewpoint "from radical left to extreme right," as evidenced in a bibliography of that title by Robert H. Muller, Theodore J. Spahn, and Janet M. Spahn (2d ed., Ann Arbor: Campus Publishers, 1970). The Michigan Historical Collections underground press collection has been defined to include periodical publications generated by the youth culture of the 1960s and its various extensions and offshoots in the 1970s, including publications concerned with radical politics, rock music, drugs, sexual liberation, black nationalism, and the student-worker alliance.

The underground newspaper holdings of the Michigan Historical Collections are built largely around the collection donated by Wystan Stevens. His Checklist of Current and Recent Michigan Radical, Underground, and Anti-Establishment Newspapers, Newsletters, and Magazines (Ann Arbor: Stevens, 1969), compiled from his collection, provides a wealth of information about publications of the 1960s.

Other important sources of underground publications were the papers of John and Leni Sinclair and of Madison James Foster. Michigan-related printed matter not directly related to these collections was removed from the papers and added to the underground press collection.

The Michigan Historical Collections has been committed to seeking out manuscript collections that document the issues and movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Michigan. A number of these collections grow out of the youth culture and related movements and address the same issues as the underground press. The John and Leni Sinclair collection provides a major manuscript source for the study of the more radical dimensions of the youth culture, documenting the careers of the Sinclairs and the cultural revolutionary groups that formed around them. Movements related to the youth culture are documented in collections such as the records of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, part of Clergy and Laity Concerned, an organization formed around opposition to the war in Vietnam that turned its attention in the 1970s to questions of amnesty, human rights, and world hunger; the papers of Madison James Foster, an activist involved in the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit and the Black Action Movement at the University of Michigan; and the Contemporary History Project collection, which includes 50 transcripts of oral interviews by Bret Eynon and Ellen Fishman with individuals involved in the political and social protest movements in Ann Arbor. The records of a number of University of Michigan units and the papers of University officers, faculty members, and students also include much material related to the youth culture in Ann Arbor.

Although its period of activity spans only a small portion in Michigan's modern history, the underground press, with its intense, impressionistic reporting, provides detailed documentation of a time of changing values and social instability. The underground press documents movements that, because of their ephemeral nature and distrust of the establishment, often left few manuscript records. For those cities that supported underground papers over a period of years, especially Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, and Lansing/ East Lansing, the effects of these changes on the community can be traced over time through the collection. For dozens of other cities, high schools, and college campuses across the state, the collection at least provides glimpses of opinions at important stages of the 1960s and 1970s.

The underground papers in the Michigan Historical Collections may be found using the MIRLYN database. Search by title or using the keywords UNDERGROUND PRESS and the name of the city.

Revised from The Underground Press in Michigan: A Bibliography based on the Resources of the Michigan Historical Collections, Bentley Historical Library (Ann Arbor: Michigan Historical Collections, 1982)