’60s-’70s underground paper to be digitized, featured in NJP book.
In 1969, Space City News, a newly minted underground newspaper, hit the streets and newsstands of Houston, Texas. The cover featured Pancho Villa who shared the same birthday with the paper, June 5.
On January 17, 1970, the paper’s name changed to Space City!, after a UFO newsletter with the same name threatened to sue. Space City! was published biweekly until April of 1971 when it began as a weekly publication. The final issue was August 3, 1972.
Houston was a tougher town than the famously laid-back Austin.
Houston was a tougher town than the famously laid-back Austin that nurtured The Rag. The office of Space City! was attacked several times in drive-by shootings, car bombings, and one pipe bombing. An arrow was shot into the door from a crossbow with a sticker saying, “The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is watching you.” Some of the paper’s advertisers were threatened and others had their places of business shot up.
The paper wasn’t the only target. The gallery owned by artist Margaret Webb Dreyer, the mother of Space City! collective member Thorne Dreyer, was targeted by gunfire with bullets penetrating the front door and yellow paint thrown on an external wall. The progressive Pacifica radio station, KPFT, was bombed off the air twice in 1970.
But, the worst violence targeted the insurgent black community. In August of 1970, a black activist, Carl Hampton, was shot to death. Space City!’s cover story was headlined, “The Houston Police Murdered Carl Hampton.”
In the midst of this, Space City! helped transform Houston into the city that proudly boasts that it is the most diverse city in the United States. Considered one of the best of the second wave of underground papers, Space City! reported on the Houston power structure, the changing cultural scene, the music, film and theater, and political insurgency of the early ‘70s.
Historian Laurence Leamer called it ‘radical journalism grounded in fact.’
Historian Laurence Leamer called it “a radical journalism grounded in fact…” and said, “there is a solid intelligence to the reviews and cultural articles…” He also praised the paper for its “major muckraking… and numerous articles challenging the conventional wisdom, either above or underground.”
Thorne Dreyer, Rag funnel, and Victoria Smith, worked together at New York’s Liberation News Service before making plans with other members of the initial collective to move to Houston to start the paper. The early crew included Sherwood Bishop, Cam Duncan, Sue Mithun Duncan, Dennis and Judy Fitzgerald, and artist Kerry Fitzgerald (later Kerry Awn), Dennis’ younger brother. Thorne, Dennis and Judy were all graduates of Houston’s Bellaire High School. Cam and Sue were in Houston via a Vista grant. Other staffers included art director Bill Narum and music writers Tary Owens and John Lomax III, both noted musicologists.
NJP is well-suited to take on publication of ‘Space City!’ book.
Following the successful 2016 publication of Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Newspaper, New Journalism Project (NJP) is well-suited to take on the publication of a book on Houston’s underground newspaper. Three members of the NJP board, sponsors of Rag Radio, The Rag Blog, and NJP Publishing, were part of the Houston Space City! scene. We have access to a nearly complete collection of the papers, and that will allow us to take on the first job, creating a digital archive.
The Rag lives on into perpetuity in the Independent Voices digital collection where researchers and activists can access it online. Space City! needs to be represented in that collection. We’ve already begun to fundraise for this task.
With a digital library, we can assemble an editorial team to identify articles and topics. We can also begin to rescue the artwork and ads, as we did for The Rag, from the newsprint images. It’s a long process, but we have done this before, and we are eager to do it again. So, stay tuned! We’ll be needing your support.
[Alice Embree is an Austin writer and activist who serves on the board of directors of the New Journalism Project and is director of NJP Publishing. Embree, who was active in the women’s movement and contributed to Sisterhood is Powerful, was a founder of The Rag, and is an editor of the book, Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Newspaper.]
- Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.
- Also see “Underground in H-Town: A rich history of alternative media” by Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog.