All of us of a certain age have our own histories and remembrances of the 1960s. We came into the Movement w/our personal baggage and encountered one of this nation’s–indeed, the world’s–most significant Cultural Revolutions. We were changed forever. The Fifth Estate newspaper was/is an integral a part of that…
The events that bring me to this Reunion coincided with the creation of the Fifth Estate newspaper back in November 1965 by Harvey Ovshinsky, 17 and Peter Werbe, 25.
The Fifth Estate–published for the past 50-yrs–is arguably the longest running alternative newspaper in America. My own association and occasional contributions w/the paper spans 49 of those years. By no means could I have predicted or foreseen that eventuality…
We all come from somewhere… Fifty-yrs ago, Sunday, September 19th, 1965, I arrived in Detroit on an old paddle-wheel steamer w/a calliope playing “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
(Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration… it was really on a Trailways bus fresh off of a Tennessee chain-gang.)
I was a 23-yr-old vet of the 101st Airborne Division and a civil rights activist. That service carried me through Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee during that quaint period of 1959-65, a century after America’s bloodiest war.
One morning in mid-September of ’65, I’m recovering in the “hole” from injuries on one of the South’s most notorious rock-quarry, chain-gangs at Nashville’s Davidson County Workhouse.
(I was amused later when I saw the movie Cool Hand Luke, Hollywood’s version of a chain-gang. Where I served my time, Luke would have had to practically be a trustee to get assigned to road-gang work.)
The next morning I’m arriving on a Trailways in Detroit. The final instructions I was issued as they removed my chains was, “This is your last warnin’, Yankee Boy. Don’t step your nigger-loving ass south of the Mason-Dixon agin!”
In a very real sense, I was quite fortunate. A couple of my last “free” experiences in the South was in the summer of ’63…
After I narrowly escaped the Klan in Chattanooga, I had a couple of hairy incidents in Mississippi. Waiting in jail for the promised “Midnight Surprise,” the police gave us a witching-hour escort to the state-line and a warning to stay out of Mississippi or, “Next time, it’ll be your last ride.”
The following summer of ’64, I was on a chain-gang, so I missed Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner’s fate in that same Mississippi location. And later still, Viola Liuzzo’s murder by the Klan in Alabama. And those are only the publicized cases of the terror inflicted by the Klan and Southern Jim Crow justice…
Being a Bronx and Long Island boy, I would normally have returned up that way. But a friend from Detroit paid my way out of that debtor’s imprisonment and forwarded a bus ticket. They were happy to get rid of me. I was somewhat surprised and happy to survive. That was a bonus.
(Years later when I attended a NALI convention in Nashville as a criminal/civil investigator, I spoke w/the keynote speaker, the Sheriff, about expunging that “criminal record.” After checking, he told me, “I remember your case, Medvecky. You caused the Workhouse to be put under federal receivership and the rock-quarry gang to be shut down. But don’t worry, all those civil rights-related cases were scrubbed off the books. Never happened.“)
Lest one think that I was a flaming radical, far from it… I was raised by my Rosie-the-Riveter mother and her partner where both had worked in the Liberty Shipyards in Rhode Island during World War-II (until women were kicked out in favor of the returning men). Thereafter, for the rest of their lives, they worked as waitresses and supermarket clerks.
At best, I was a liberal, albeit w/a rudimentary class and feminist consciousness.
My mother’s politics were comprised in her statement to me when I was about 6-yrs-old (listening to the Truman-Dewey presidential campaign of ’48 on the radio … no TVs back then), “Republicans are the rich folks; Democrats are the rest of us.”
I discovered down South, after the Army, that I had a talent for direct sales (door-to-door encyclopedias). While the average worker in the South earned between $25-and-$50/wk (no unions down there), I was pulling down an easy $500/week (that’s $4,000 in today’s money)!
My problem was an incident involving one of my clients. It made me face the fact that, economically, I was a predator. I walked away and vowed to never again prey upon poor working people. I guess that helped set me up for my later socio-political conversion experience.
In Detroit I lucked into a factory job as a skilled inspector in the aerospace industry. While I only had a 9th grade education and an Army GED, I wasn’t stupid.
It turned out that the UAW chapter at that factory was Local #212, one of the most radical in the nation. Several of those workers turned out to be “radicals” and socialists who back in the ’30s and ’40s had helped build the unions.
One of them especially, Frere Vallie, had become a left-oppositionist to Stalin’s state-capitalist form of “communism” back in the ‘30s and was, in fact, scheduled to rotate down to Mexico as a body guard for Leon Trotsky when the Old Man was murdered by one of Joe Stalin’s agents in 1940.
Like many socialists, Fred joined the military in WW-II, fought in the Pacific with distinction and earned his sergeant stripes. After the war, Fred and a group of other sergeants led the “Bring the Boys Home Now!” movement.
(The gov’t wanted to delay any homecoming in order to employ the troops to reestablish the former colonies of the allies [including Vichy France in Vietnam] and impose new controls over those of the former Axis. The radical sergeant’s group were having none of that.
(They agitated, caused massive troop refusals, and were locked up in Hawaii. The Soviet Union may have been an ally during the war, but the US gov’t/corporate combine had other plans after the war.)
Another of those sergeants was Emile Mazey. The convention of the AFl-CIO threatened a national general strike if Mazey wasn’t returned (he had been elected their secr-treasurer) along w/all the troops. The gov’t relented. (The “no strike” pledge of the unions had ended w/the war.)
Another Local #212 activist was Ernest Mazey, Emile’s brother, who was also the Detroit Director of the Detroit ACLU. Over the course of my first year in Detroit, I had a first-class education in Marxism and political history … revolutionary activism would soon follow.
While I was a general supporter of the War in Vietnam when I came to Detroit (I didn’t make the connection between the capitalist system and these events until my Local #212 period), in the summer of ’66 it all came together.
(I recall walking out of downtown Hudson’s w/my girlfriend early in ’66 and being surprised by several hundred people “marching” w/signs against the war. It was led–or so I thought–by a group of guys carrying a large banner reading: “This is a Communist Parade!” My attitude, I recall, was disgust. But I was also impressed by the fact that all of the marchers were ordinary-looking people, families w/children.
(I was to later learn that the front banner was in fact Donald Lobsinger’s proto-fascist group, Breakthrough! usurping the front of the anti-war demo. As the Movement radicalized, they were never again able to pull such stunts.)
I joined the Detroit Committee to End the War in Vietnam (DCEWV) and was soon elected its chairman. I also joined the YSA and the SWP and co-founded the Detroit Veterans Against the War (VAW; which supported returning vets’ creation of the VVAW).
Anyways, all that gives one a flavor of who I am and where I was coming from. The Fifth Estate family is comprised of a vast assortment of experiences … this is only one.
Over time, I transitioned thru many politically-associated incarnations–WSU’s South End daily newspaper, Middle East journalist, criminal/civil investigator, federal prisoner and a PsyD in Forensic Psych–but the Fifth Estate newspaper always remained an anchor. Still is…
One of the most important things to always remember–I constantly remind myself–is that WE ALL ORIGINALLY COME FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE. Never fail to reach across and offer that bridge to someone else…
The 50th Anniversary of the Fifth Estate is being celebrated over a period of time and venues. Remaining open schedules include an Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Avenue, You Can’t Print That! 50 Years of The Fifth Estate, Friday, September 11, 2015 – Sunday, January 3, 2016.
The opening MOCAD reception will be held on Thursday, September 10, from 5-7 pm. On Saturday, September 12, 1 pm: “Art as a Social Force” Artists represented in the exhibition discuss their work and its display in the Fifth Estate.
Also at the MOCAD, September 19th, 3-5 pm, will be The Fifth Estate’s 50 Years of Radical Journalism, Commentary & Critique: A Panel & Conversation. MOCAD will host a Fifth Estate staff reunion at 5-7 pm.
Ongoing: Detroit Historical Museum, 5401 Woodward, “Start the Presses: 50 years of the Fifth Estate“ open to the public during museum hours. Runs to August 2016. Free.
A dance/party/concert celebration will be at the HopCat (Canfield at Woodward), September 19th, 8:30-10 pm, featuring Detroit’s Layabouts. BE THERE … I WILL…
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), September 2015…