|Covers from the Seed's first three years.|
Note: I am finally getting around to continuing my
memories of the Seed and its turbulent,
After my first encounter with actual Chicago Seed staffers on a stifling hot early
summer evening in 1968 on an assignment from radical historian Staughton Lynn to seek out the Yippies, the summer rolled along
to its inevitable epic climax—the protests associated with Democratic National Convention and the resultant police
riots and armed
National Guard intervention—all of it written about and participated in by Seed staffers. I have chronicled my own
summer in a memoir series called Chicago Summer of
’68 that ran successively in 11 posts in this blog beginning with Chicago
Summer of ’68 Memoir—I Go to a Party on August 1, 2015.
After it was all over I returned to Shimer College in Mt. Carroll,
Illinois for what
turned out to be unexpectedly my last semester there.
For various reasons I dropped out to transfer to the very different Columbia
College in Chicago,
a communications and arts school then located on the upper floors of a commercial building fronting the Inner
Drive between Grand
Avenue and Ohio
Streets just across
from Navy Pier. I enrolled in the Story
writing program run
by John Schultz, who wrote one of the best accounts of Convention week, No One Was Killed. I
had delusions of
becoming the next Great American Novelist.
I moved into my first Chicago place—a six room garden apartment
a/k/a basement—in a seedy
three flat on Howe Street west of Old Town and about a long block north of Arbitrage. It was a tough neighborhood of mixed Appalachian Whites and Puerto Ricans with whom they had a tense
relationship. I split the $78 a month rent with a black
street kid who I
connected with in a personal ad in the Seed
and a 56 year old Mexican who I had worked with at a Skokie air conditioning factory and who had lost
everything when his adult son was shot while waiting in line at a Kentucky Fried
Chicken store and
took a long, expensive time to die.
I was too stupid to realize what a red flag my roommates were to the neighborhood street
gang the Howe
Street Boys. And I represented yet another threat—the gentrification represented by Old Town
It turned out the Seed staff
were experiencing somewhat similar problems at their offices which were then located on Sedgewick
just south of North
Avenue which was on
the western fringes of Old Town but also in the literal shadow of the massive virtually
all Black Cabrini Green housing complex.
It was also
just a few short blocks south of my new place.
It turned out that Black gang members from the Projects did not look on the hippie
newspaper staff as friends
and allies but as White
interlopers and the nose-of-the-camel
under the tent for
White gentrification and eventual displacement of Blacks. It was no secret that the developers of Old
Town’s Carl Sandburg Village high rise apartments and others hoped to take over Cabrini Green for middle
class condos and had
support form powerful Democrats.
So the local gangs literally besieged the office, pelting it with
bricks and rocks and threatening
staffers as they
came and went. The editors issued a tone
deaf and defiant
statement in the
paper which denounced the attackers as “Black storm troopers” vowed not to “leave Old
Town until we are ready.” It turned out
that they were immediately ready and fled the offices locating them further
north and an insulating distance from Cabrini.
I stupidly planned a huge party inviting all of my old Shimer pals, folks
I knew from High School at Niles West and new acquaintances at Columbia.
Word spread and scores showed up despite the fact that I had forgotten
that the date corresponded to the first anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther
King. Cabrini Green and much of Black Chicago were rioting
away. You could hear gunfire and see Chicago
Police cars screaming to the scene with their windows taped up for protection from rocks and bottles.
The Howe Street Boys realized that the cops had bigger fish to
fry and gathered in
front of my rowdy party. Pretty soon
guests were assaulted and I was pretty badly roughed up when I went out to try
to rescue them. I had my own personal
mini-riot. We were besieged all
night. I recounted the whole evening in
some detail in a post called April
1969—Now That Was A Party.
Like the Seed, I soon fled for digs
in the first of many
moves over the next few years. It is
clear that neither the Hippie/Yippies at the Seed yet had a clear understanding of the class and racial dynamics
of the city.
That summer I joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who I had first
encountered during the Democratic Convention.
In the time since that contact the Chicago Branch had sprung to new
life with scores of
active young members. I was astonished
to find more than 50 in attendance at my first Branch Meeting. I plunged right in to activity.
|The Chicago People's Park Project got some ink in the Sun Times.|
My first project would bring me back to the issues of urban
that had been at the heart of the troubles on Howe Street. City demolition under the guise of slum
removal was gobbling
up block after block of
slightly rundown but serviceable working class housing, much of it in classic
brick and gray
stone two and
three flat buildings. The razing of Larabee Street from Armitage to North
Avenues just east of Howe Street had been completed while I was still
there. Middle class town homes were slated to replace a
once stable immigrant Italian and German neighborhood.
Then, leapfrogging a few blocks west, most of a block on Halsted north of Armitage was leveled. When the City announced that the land was not
going to be developed as affordable housing as originally promised but as a private
tennis club a mini-riot
broke out at a community
meeting held at
nearby Waller High School. The next day organized by the Young
Comancheros, a radicalized
Chicano and multi-ethnic
gang and the more well
known and established
Puerto Rican Young Lords hundreds of community members descended on the vacant property and began removing
rubble. Inspired by events in Berkley, California they declared that the
land had been seized by the People and a People’s Park would be built.
I had been at the Waller meeting and had a passing acquaintance with the
leaders of both the Comancheros and the Lords.
The Chicago Branch conveniently met the first night of the occupation. I reported what I had experienced at the
scene that day and they voted overwhelmingly to lend the union’s full support
to the project. I was credentialed
as official IWW liaison. I threw myself into the project with enthusiasm. After consulting with the nightly people’s
council held on the
site, I was asked to try and arrange some trucks and heavy equipment to help
with clearing the rubble which was being done by hand. They perhaps had an exaggerated idea of who
the members of our union actually were—at this point mostly now retired
veterans and young
radicals, none of
whom to my knowledge were construction workers.
None-the-less I started working the phone cold calling places out of the phone
book. I quickly discovered that there were companies glad
to haul away the rubble for construction landfill and were not particularly choosey about the perfect
legality of taking it. I was told late
they were probably mob connected and had a certain impunity that did not come from us. Then I got a guy on the line in a paving
company yard after the office staff had left for the day. He was thrilled about the project because
family members had lost their homes to urban removal. He said, “I don’t care what the company says,
I’ll be there.” The next evening after
his shift he arrived on a road grader and made short work of leveling the ground.
Needless to say the folks at the park were impressed and my Fellow
astonished. I was too clueless to
realize that I had done anything unusual at all. After spending a few nights quasi-camping at
the park to keep the Police from seizing it when the hundreds of community
volunteers were gone, I was interviewed by reporters. They felt safer talking to me than to
scary Young Comancheros and Young Lords.
It was agreed that I would act as a press liaison for the Park. One night Studs Terkel hauled his huge, heavy
powered tape recorder and sat with several Comancheros and me around a fire as quarts of
Meisterbrau were passed
around and the young
dudes huffed typewriter solvent from brown paper bags. We
talked for two or more hours and established a relationship that would last for
For the Seed the connection to
the iconic Berkley People’s Park project made our local effort especially
interesting. My first encounter with
staffers since stumbling in on a lay-out session on LaSalle Street. From then on I would encounter them at all
sorts of community events, at demonstrations, at social occasions, and at cheap
saloons like Johnny
Weiss’s on Lincoln
Most of August of ’69 was taken up by the People’ Park project. To our astonishment the city never
tried to deploy the Police to remove us. Plans for
the tennis club were publicly scrapped.
The community managed to put up some makeshift playground equipment,
install a few benches, and even plant some shrubs. The land was left undeveloped for more than a
decade, long after the Park had deteriorated by not being maintained. But at that moment, it was a stunning
|The Conspiracy Trial riveted all of our attention.|
That fall the opening of the Conspiracy 8—soon to be Conspiracy
7—Trial on September
24 riveted all
of our attentions. The Seed, following on its deep involvement
with the Yippies and the Convention protests, made coverage of the trial a top
featuring some of its most memorable covers. Via the Underground Press Syndicate free exchange the paper’s coverage was
picked up by the radical press all over the country. There was plenty to write about—Judge
Julius Hoffman’s obvious bias, the bounding and gagging of Bobby Seals and his eventual severance from the trial, the
almost complete shutdown of the planned defense, and, of course, the antics of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.
The evening the trial opened I was joined by Shimer college pals Bill
Delaney, a former
Vietnam Marine, and Sarah
(Sally) MacMurrough, former
unrequited love for a March from Lincoln Park to the Federal Building in the Loop.
To our surprise
the march had only gone a few blocks when some demonstrators began to break
windows in storefronts
and attempted to overturn
some cars. For once the Chicago Police seemed taken
unaware. A kind of a rolling brawl erupted between the Cops
and the most aggressive demonstrators.
Rocks and bottles were thrown and the Police responded with tear
The three of us tried to keep our distance from the fighting, mostly by staying
on the sidewalk and maneuvering
to keep upwind of the gas. We did make it to the
Federal Building where a noisy but peaceful rally was finally held.
But clearly, something had radically changed. During the Convention protestors were mostly
peaceful and on the defense
to police and
National Guard attacks. Scuffling
was extremely limited
and occurred only after strong provocations, as when Michael James of SDS and later Rising Up Angry and friends were famously photographed trying to push
over a Police Squadrol
of cops attacked the
crowd outside the Conrad Hilton on Wednesday night.
But here at least some protestors had planned to go on a rampage—many sporting
|Skip Williamson stuck it to the police in his his Seed covers.|
The Flower Power era seemed dead. The Seed staff took note and although divided
on the wisdom of taking
it to the streets in
this new way, reflected it, especially in a series of memorable covers by Skip Williamson
Most of the rioters on that march were from the new RYM
(Revolutionary Youth Movement) faction that had “expelled” the far larger WSA (Worker Student Alliance)
organizing focused group—and the Maoist PL (Progressive Labor) factions as a summer convention in
Chicago. WSA members and the so-called libertarians—anti-authoritarian
a rump session at the IWW General Headquarters on Halstead Street during the turmoil.
Within months most campus chapters had fallen apart and RYM had split again
with the sub-faction lead by Bernadine Dorn advocating immediate armed insurrection. These were the Weathermen, noisy but widely
The Seed staff was unaffiliated
with any faction but had individuals with ties to all factions.
|Bring the War Home Weatherman Days of Rage poster.|
Then there were the Days of Rage that October.
The emerging Weathermen were singing I’m Dreaming of a White Riot. They planned to Bring
the War Home in
three days of demonstrations. Despite
ambitious attempts to recruit protestor nationally only about 800 hard
core showed up to battle
more than 2000
Chicago police in
full riot gear ready
to meet them. On October 8th the action started with an attempted late night
dash from Lincoln Park of the Drake Hotel at Oak Street where Conspiracy Trial Judge Julius Hoffman lived.
I was riding my bicycle home to my Lincoln Park digs from a late class at Columbia
College when I stumbled
into the melee. A guy in a motorcycle helmet and leather
jacket spotted me and yelled “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us!” and
came at me swinging a three foot two by four. I narrowly evaded him and made my escape.
The incident did not endear the Weathermen to me. The cops easily won the battle when it
reached the Drake. Six Weathermen were shot and dozens injured, some
badly but most avoided hospitals for fear of arrest.
68 were arrested.
The next day an attempt by Bernadine Dorn to lead a foray out of Grant
Park with a Women’s Militia was easily foiled. That night
Fred Hampton disassociated the Illinois Black Panther Party from Weatherman, saying, “We do not support people
who are anarchistic, opportunistic, adventuristic, and Custeristic.” That summed up my positions as well.
On the October 11 300 Weathermen pulled a surprise march
through the Loop smashing store windows and cars. Half of the rioters were quickly arrested but
Assistant States Attorney Richard Elrod broke his neck and was paralyzed when he tried to
Flanagan. As a revolutionary action it was a total
failure and did not
spark any other White Riots.
The Weathermen famously doubled down, went underground and began plotting
bombing campaigns. Over the next years they
launched several attacks and on March 6, 1970 Ted Gold, Dianne Oughton, and Terry Robbins
were killed when the
bomb factory in
the Manhattan town house exploded. I had known Gould and
Oughton from the movement center for high school students I worked out of during the
Democratic Convention. They did not seem
crazy or deranged
at the time.
|The Seed's Fred Hampton memorial cover.|
Then in December of 1969 the assassinations of Black Panthers Fred
Hampton and Mark
Clark during a Chicago
police attack on
their apartment as they slept was a real kick in the gut.
Hampton had launched
a series of community projects including a breakfast program for children and had both hammered
out a gang
truce and forged a
new Rainbow Alliance that included the Young Lords, and the Appalachian White Young Patriots. At just 21 he was widely considered
the best and brightest star of a new multi-ethnic left movement. His death
was like a declaration of war. More white leftists, including Seed staffers were now ready to “fight
In fact an obsession with the police made it seem that the revolution was a war on the pigs almost forgetting that they
were just the brutal face of greater and more powerful forces.
Tomorrow: Out of Old Town, on to
Patrick, again I am amused by the parallels in our lives. I had also gone to Shimer a few years earlier than you, and also lived on Howe in a cheap apt. although in my case I lived alone or with a girlfriend.(1814 in the rear). I mostly observed all of the shenanigans during that time, didn't participate; I'm of the non-violent school. Fun to revisit through your good recall, thanks.ReplyDelete