The Birth of the 'Voice': 1955–1965

From the Beats to Civil Rights, Lenny Bruce to Warhol's Factory . . .


Coffee-house Cassius. In one of the most bizarre triumphs since P.T. Barnum had two of his midgets ceremonially married at Greenwich Village’s Grace Episcopal Church, in the middle of the 19th century, the fight game’s answer to Cyrano de Bergerac held forth last Thursday in an improbable high-noon poetry reading at the Bitter End coffee house on Bleecker. The reading was in preparation for his bout with Doug Jones this week. Here, Mr. Clay produces a mob scene upon leaving the event. (March 1963)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

Peace Strike Under Way—No Violence, Police Tactful

by Michael Smith
February 1, 1962

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Hundreds of Villagers and other New Yorkers are putting most of their energies this week into protests against nuclear testing and the "war economy." The Worldwide General Strike for Peace began on Monday at points all around town with high enthusiasm if relatively few participants. The elaborate schedule of activities comes to a first round conclusion on Sunday evening, February 4, with a rally at the Village Gate and a torchlight parade up Sixth Avenue to Times Square.

Following last week's refusal by the New York Times of the ad for the General Strike, the New York Committee submitted the ad to the Herald Tribune and the Post. Both rejected it. According to Julian Beck, an initiator of the strike concept, the Herald Tribune gave no reason for this rejection. The Post, he said, demanded deletion of the words "strike," "work-stoppage," and "boycott," and required that the ad not announce picketing at the U.S. Army recruiting station in Times Square or at the New York Stock Exchange. The Post has recently initiated a stock-market report section.

On Friday a group of about 20 advocates of the strike picketed the Times, wearing placards explaining the aims and planned activities of strike week. Retreating from the rain into Cobb's Corner Coffee Shop, on the corner of 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue, the picketers held a brief press conference, at which the Times, the Tribune, and The Voice were represented.

On Monday a group of strikers estimated at more than 300 marched down Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to Washington Square. In a kick-off speech in front of the Plaza Hotel, David McReynolds, of the War Resisters League, said: "We declare peace against all the governments of the world."

The mood of the occasion was festive despite the 26-degree cold and the apparent indifference of most passers-by. A large group of the walkers, centered on folk-singers Pete Seeger and Gil Turner, sang "I Ain't Gonna Study War No More," "You Can Dig Your Grave in Your Own Backyard," and other songs of protest. Arriving at Washington Square, the group was diverted by good-natured police to the sidewalk along Sixth Avenue south of Waverly Place. There Julian Beck spoke briefly, telling the demonstrators: "It is beautiful to see you here today. You are the hope of the future." "Peace torches" were then lighted and carried to points where vigils will be maintained throughout the week of the strike.
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The View From the Front of the Bus: The Civil Rights March on Washington

By Marlene Nadle

"There's no place for Uncle Tom on this bus, man." The voice of the Negro echoed down the neon-bathed Harlem street as he mounted the steps of Bus 10 ready to start for Washington.

It was 2 a.m. on the morning of August 28. Anticipation hovered quietly over the 24 buses that lined both sides of 125th Street. Cars and cabs stopped more and more frequently to pour forth bundle-laden, sleepy Marchers. Black, white, old, young zigzagged back and forth across the street trying to find their assigned buses. Bus captains marked by yellow ribbons and rumpled passenger lists stood guard at the bus doors. Small groups huddled around them.

Voices arose above the general din.

"You've got to switch me to Bus 10. It's a swingin' bus. There's nothin' but old ladies on this crate."

"Hey, is this bus air-conditioned?"

"Where can I get seat reservations?"

"Hey, chick, are you on this bus?"

"Yeah."

"Is your husband on this bus?"

"Yeah."

"That's all right. I'll make love to both of you. I'm compatible."

"Who the hell is on this bus?" cried George Johnson, the exasperated 30-year-old Negro captain of Bus 10 and organizer of New York CORE's 24-bus caravan. "People shouldn't be swapping buses, especially CORE members. It only adds to the confusion. Now everybody get in a seat and stay there. You can't save seats. This isn't a cocktail party."

The reaction to George's gruffness was a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Mr. Charlie routine. "Yassir, anything you say, sir." "Don't you fret now, Mr. George." "Don't you go upsetting yourself, boss." "You knows I always listen to you captain sir."

There was a general shuffling of bundles on the bus. Index cards with emergency Washington phone numbers were filled out and kept by everyone. "Sit-In Song Books" were passed back.

Outside the window of Bus 10 an old Negro was standing with outstretched arms reciting an impromptu ode to the Black Woman. "Black Woman, you are the queen of the universe. I would give my life for you." This was less comic than symptomatic. It was just one of many signs of the racial pride which is now surging through the Negro people.

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