What do you think of when you think of the culture of the late 1960s and 1970s? Hippies? Beatnik literature? Civil Rights? The Beatles? Woodstock?
All of those events, movements, people, and art that you might be thinking of belong to a certain period in history: the counterculture movement. Permeating everything from clothing, music, culture, politics, and activism, the movement was defined as a rejection of mainstream society. Counterculture youth shunned the social standards of their parents and advocated for changes in racial and gender equality. This era of counterculture fueled the landmark events of the time period, such as the Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights movement and second-wave feminism. New forms of media were integral to spreading ideas about social and political issues. However, the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s would not have been possible without countercultural newspapers, also referred to as the “underground press.”
This new form of journalism was an explosive new media system that was able to spread radical new ideas to communities. While the label “underground press” had long been used by publications of resistance groups in totalitarian societies, it was repurposed in the mid-1960s by activists who published radical news. The underground press challenged the conventions of journalism and politics with unique designs, uncompromising articles, and radical opinions. In so doing they established the parameters of radical politics and the meanings of counterculture for this pivotal decade.
Countercultural newspapers were common throughout big cities, and especially in college towns, such as in Tallahassee. Amazing Grace was one of eight known counterculture publications in Florida. Published by the Florida Free Press, Amazing Grace was rivaled by other newspapers, especially FSU’s own student publication, the Florida Flambeau. Amazing Grace, like their mainstream counterpart, would talk about recent events, had opinion pieces, and even album reviews. But the newspaper strongly differed in what they talked about, and how they talked about it.
Amazing Grace has a very consistent organization, apart from a few of the special issues that were put out. All copies have a striking cover, either in black and white or in later issues, color. This is then followed by a front article called “The Soundway?” which was a form of letter from the editor.
What then follows is a compilation of articles written by the staff, interviews and even snippets taken from existing publications. These articles were extremely opinionated, brash, and unapologetic to their subject at hand. Their articles talked extensively about anti-war sentiments and protests, racial inequality, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and feminism. These themes persist throughout all of the issues.
For example, the article, “The Strange Saga of the Quincy Eight,” highlights racial disparity. The author highlights the “weak” case against five African-American men who were charged with killing a Leon County sheriff. The author points out holes in the case, whether it be through evidence or witnesses. Another article, “Why Labor Under a Misconception?” advocated for women’s reproductive rights and the repeal of anti-abortion legislation.
Even in advertisements these themes are apparent, as events for marginalized communities felt welcome in being included in Amazing Grace. Noted above is an ad for a “Gay In” that invites people to come for workshops, food, and overnight accommodations. Amazing Grace provided a safe platform for people to talk, celebrate, gather and discuss countercultural ideas.
Almost every copy of Amazing Grace has a centerfold image that takes up two pages. These centerfolds range from funky psychedelic drawings, to satirical jokes and political art.
Another element consistent in most issues is a section titled “Create, Play, Grow.” The article would involve some do-it-yourself project. This ranged from recipes for bread and fruit leather, sewing patterns for clothing, tutorials on how to dye fabric, or how to make your own soap.
This DIY mentality and creative spirit exudes into the rest of the newspaper, especially in the art showcased. From the two-page centerfolds in most issues, to small doodles and caricatures for articles, artistic talent is on show. Photographs were sparingly used with articles, as most received a hand-drawn image.
Compared to the Florida Flambeau, Amazing Grace had a vastly different agenda that it was aiming for. They wanted to confront the public head-on with radical news and highlight marginalized voices. Amazing Grace serves as an important publication for the journalism of Tallahassee in the sixties and seventies. Its creativity and unfiltered articles make it a landmark countercultural publication that was created for the Tallahassee community.
All issues of Amazing Grace can be viewed on Diginole – https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:huaamazinggrace.
Kessler, Lauren. The Dissident Press : Alternative Journalism In American History. Beverly Hills, Calif: Sage Publications, 1984.
Streitmatter, Rodger. Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
Borchard, Gregory. A Narrative History of the American Press. New York: Routledge, 2018.