The Birth of the 'Voice': 1955–1965

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

A white minister from Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) greeted new arrivals, urged them to leave the city "as soon as the rally is over because it will be dangerous," and directed them to shuttle buses to the City of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic complex where the marchers had camped the night before. On the SCLC minister's lapel was a button that said "GROW." He explained it stood for "Get Rid of Wallace."

At St. Jude the predominant mood was gaiety, as thousands upon thousands of visitors swelled the great serpentine line of march that coiled around the vast, muddy athletic field.

Small clusters sang freedom songs during the two hours it took for the whole line to unwind onto the streets towards the capitol, four miles away. The visitors sang off-key versions of better-known freedom songs, while local Negroes, led by either SNCC or SCLC staff members, sang raucous, sassy, taunting songs that came out of the Movement in Alabama's Black Belt. A group of about 500 from St. Louis stood in a large circle, one small, Negro woman calling out chorus after chorus of "We Shall Overcome."

Other demonstrators milled around the staging area like conventioneers, wearing name tags and introducing themselves to strangers, pronouncing their home towns with accents of pride—Montreal, Berkeley, Boston, Detroit—and their association with equal pride—ADA, the United Auto Workers, NAACP, the University of Virginia, the American Legion (Gramercy Park chapter).

At noon, under one of the day's brief showers, the procession began to move out, with the bloody-shoed 300 who had marched all the way in the vanguard. With them were barefoot Joan Baez; James Baldwin, nervously smiling, just back from Scandinavia; the angelic looking Montgomery seamstress Rosa Parks, who ignited the mythic bus boycott a decade ago; and SNCC's John Lewis, who walked the whole way from Selma and who had suffered head injuries on "Bloody Sunday" at the Alabama River Bridge. And there was Martin Luther King, to whom Negroes of the Black Belt now sing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" and then kiss his hand.

The streets in the Negro slums of Montgomery were of mud and clay. There were row upon row of run-down shacks, with the very old, the very young, the unemployed sitting on porches.

At first the non-marchers were timid and shy. It was as if shame made them look down rather than at the masses that surged past them. But slowly, they looked up, to wave, and when the marchers began to shout, "Join us, come on," many accepted the invitation and probably protested their plight for the first time in their lives. Marching through the slum was like taking LSD for the soul.
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WBAI: Mastering the Art of Eking Out a Living

By Susan Brownmiller
July 15, 1965

They had a marvelous time, those plucky non-conforming radio kids over at WBAI. They suspended regular programming with the evening news, flipped the switch for the incoming calls, and staged a marathon 55-hour appeal for funds to tide them over what they called their worst crisis in five years of broadcasting.

Syrupy-voiced staff announcer Bob Fass pierced ears for the cause in the window of Conrad's, a village jeweler. Comic Henry Morgan came up to the station to tape some plugs and actor Tony Randall gave a fast 200 in cash. Artist Elaine De Kooning provided some of her minor Kennedy paintings for auction, and other lesser known artistic lights offered their services as plumbers and carpenters. A piano company hauled over the floor model for the critical stretch and jazz pianist Randy Weston fell by to play it. Big Joe Williams sang the blues and three teenagers hitchhiked in from Nyack to make sandwiches for the tired and hungry crew.

It was a gasser, and when they totaled the receipts they found they had garnered over $25,000—enough to keep the turntables spinning and the commentators questioning until mid-August.

Play Time. Edward Albee, left, with Jerry Tallmer at the Obie awards. (May 1960)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah


By Edward Albee
November 25, 1965

A play by Sam Shepard, presented through Sunday by and at the Caffe Cino, 31 Cornelia Street. Directed by Michael Smith.

For those of you who are busy people, facts first, implications later. (And by facts I mean, of course, nothing closer to the truth than my opinions.) Sam Shepard is one of the youngest and most gifted of the new playwrights working off-Broadway these days. The signature of his work is its unencumbered spontaneity—the impression Shepard gives of inventing drama as a form each time he writes a play. His new theatre piece, "Icarus's Mother," is presently on view at the Caffe Cino. Sad to say, it gives the impression of being a mess . . .

The value of off-Broadway and its café adjuncts lies not only in its enthusiasm for sustaining plays without which the uptown theatre is unreal and preposterous—the work of Beckett, Genet, Pinter, Claudel, deGhelderode, for example—but, as well, in offering new, experimental playwrights (such as Sam Shepard) a proper ambiance in which to try things out, over-reach, fail and, if they have the stuff, finally succeed.

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