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A counter-culture newspaper: ‘The Bird’

By Barry Switay

The Great Speckled Bird, or “The Bird” as it’s affectionately known, was a counter-culture underground paper.

It ran in Atlanta from 1968 to 1976, picked up steam briefly in 1984, and published a few issues in 2006 before stopping publication.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “The Bird” reported on politics—local, national and international, pop culture and linked left leaning activists across Georgia and the Deep South.

“The Bird” is an important aspect of Atlanta history. The New Georgia Encyclopedia reports, “By the summer of 1970, the Great Speckled Bird had become the largest paid weekly newspaper in Georgia, with a circulation of 23,000 copies.”

According to Robert Woodrum, GPC history professor on the Decatur campus, “‘The Bird’ was a product of the student movement and the culture and politics of the times.”

Woodrum mentioned that students “who are interested in our contemporary politics and culture can find the roots of many issues in the pages of ‘The Bird’—from race relations to women’s rights, gay rights, rock and roll, and more. It’s all there.”

Also, according to Woodrum, GPC has some interesting ties to “The Bird.” Stephanie Coffin, a retired GPC professor, was one of its founders.

According to Steve Wise, former long-time staffer at The Bird, “The incorporation papers were prepared and signed by Maynard Jackson, then a young lawyer in town and six years before he would be inaugurated as Atlanta’s first black mayor.”

Wise also told me that “The Bird” and a few staff members were “very active” in helping to get the progressive radio station 89.3 WRFG off the ground in Atlanta just over 41 years ago.

Unfortunately, today few of these underground papers still exist.

As far as the name, Wise said that Tom Coffin, co-founder of The Bird, heard a version of the song “The Great Speckled Bird” at the Twelfth Gate Coffeehouse in Atlanta and thought it would be a great name.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “The Bird” was banned from schools and in 1972 the office was firebombed; local authorities often harassed those who sold the paper on street corners.

In many ways the birds round about were against “The Bird.”

The history of The Bird and the fascinating counter-cultural history of Atlanta is so much more detailed than this article.

For more information, check out the exhibit from Feb. 9 through 19 at the Decatur campus in SF 2100/2101. On Feb. 9 and 19, former staffers will be there at 11:30 a.m.

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