On the Ground

Sean Stewart et al.

An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S.

In four short years (1965-1969), the underground press grew from five small newspapers in as many cities in the U.S. to over 500 newspapers–with millions of readers–all over the world. Completely circumventing (and subverting) the establishment media.

In four short years (1965–1969), the underground press grew from five small newspapers in as many cities in the U.S. to over 500 newspapers—with millions of readers—all over the world. Completely circumventing (and subverting) establishment media by utilizing their own news service and freely sharing content amongst each other, the underground press, at its height, became the unifying institution for the counterculture of the 1960s.

Frustrated with the lack of any mainstream media criticism of the Vietnam War, empowered by the victories of the Civil Rights era, emboldened by the anti-colonial movements in the third world and with heads full of acid, a generation set out to change the world. The underground press was there documenting, participating in, and providing the resources that would guarantee the growth of this emergent youth culture. Combining bold visuals, innovative layouts, and eschewing any pretense toward objectivity, the newspapers were wildly diverse and wonderfully vibrant.

Neither meant to be an official nor comprehensive history, On the Ground focuses on the anecdotal detail that brings the history alive. Comprised of stories told by the people involved with the production and distribution of the newspapers—John Sinclair, Art Kunkin, Paul Krassner, Emory Douglas, John Wilcock, Bill Ayers, Spain Rodriguez, Trina Robbins, Al Goldstein, Harvey Wasserman and more—and featuring over 50 full-color scans taken from a broad range of newspapers—Basta Ya, Berkeley Barb, Berkeley Tribe, Chicago Seed, Helix, It Ain’t Me Babe, Los Angeles Free Press, Osawatomie, Rat Subterranean News, San Francisco Express Times, San Francisco Oracle, Screw: The Sex Review, The Black Panther, The East Village Other, The Realist, and many more—the book provides a true window into the spirit of the times, giving the reader a feeling for the energy on the ground.

“On the Ground serves as a valuable contribution to countercultural history.” —Paul Krassner, author of Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture

“One should not underestimate the significant value of this book. It gives you real insights into the underground press and its vast diversity of publications, which translated into a taste of real people’s power.” —Emory Douglas, former Black Panther Party graphic artist and Minister of Culture

Sean Stewart grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. Between 2007 and 2009 he owned and operated Babylon Falling, a bookstore and gallery in San
Francisco.He now lives in Brooklyn.

Paul Buhle is a (retired) Senior Lecturer at Brown University and author or editor of 35 volumes, including histories of radicalism in the U.S. and the Caribbean, studies of popular culture, and a series of nonfiction comic art volumes. Buhle was founding editor of the journal Radical America (1967–1999), an unofficial organ of Students for a Democratic Society; founder of Cultural Correspondence (1977–1983), a journal of popular culture studies; and founder and director of the Oral History of the American Left archive at New York University in 1976. In 2006–2007, he was one of the founding figures of the new Students for a Democratic Society and, more recently, a leader of the Movement for a Democratic Society.

Bill Ayers is an American elementary education theorist and a former leader in the movement that opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He is known for his 1960s activism as well as his current work in education reform, curriculum and instruction. In 1969 he co-founded the Weather Underground and, while on the run from the FBI, wrote for their clandestinely published newspaper Osawatomie. He is a retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

From 1967 until the early 1980s, Emory Douglas oversaw the layout and publication of The Black Panther newspaper, with his iconic artwork featured prominently throughout the paper. He is currently enjoying a resurgence of interest in his artwork and has had major shows of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Urbis Arts Museum in Manchester and the New Museum in New York City. Emory currently lives in San Francisco and continues to lend his talent, voice, and vision to the causes in which he believes.

Trina Robbins is an American comics artist and writer. She was an early and influential participant in the underground comix movement and one of the few female artists in underground comix when she started. Robbins’ first comics were printed in The East Village Other. In 1970 she left New York for San Francisco, where she worked at the feminist underground newspaper It Ain’t Me Babe. She subsequently established the first all-woman comic book titled It Ain’t Me Babe Comix. She became increasingly involved in creating outlets for and promoting female comics artists, through projects such as the comics anthology Wimmen’s Comix.

Paul Krassner is an author, journalist, stand-up comedian, and the founder, editor and frequent contributor to the freethought magazine The Realist (1958–1974). Krassner became a key figure in the counterculture of the 1960s. Krassner is the only person to win awards from both Playboy magazine (for satire) and the Feminist Party Media Workshop (for journalism). He was the first living man to be inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame, which took place at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. He received an ACLU Uppie (Upton Sinclair) Award for dedication to freedom of expression, and, according to the FBI files, he was described by the FBI as “a raving, unconfined nut.”

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