FORTY-NINE, SEPTEMBER 1, 1999
PROTESTING THE WAR IN NEW ORLEANS
[The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Portraits from Memory: New Orleans in the '60s by Darlene Fife, to be published in the fall of 1999 by Surregional Press, 1539 Crete Street, New Orleans, LA 70119.]
Robert and I were arrested on federal charges of obscenity in the mails
on Jan 7, 1970. I remember the date because it was Robert's birthday, his 28th. As he
later put it in an article for NOLA Express we were "the first newspaper in
the US to be indicted by the government in what we call contemporary times."
Kendall Vick later conjectured to Larry Leamer who was researching what became his book, The Paper Revolutionaries, that when the city and state officials found their hands tied, so to speak, by the Christenberry injunction, they went around the corner to their friends in the federal prosecutors office to see what they could do.
I was awakened that morning by a knock on the door. It was my friend, Barbara Scott.
"I want to be the first to take you out to coffee", she said, smiling. I was surprised.
She'd never before, knocked on the door in the morning.
"Haven't you seen the newspaper?" she asked, handing me the paper with the news of our sealed indictment the day before. I went in the bedroom and woke Robert.
"Happy birthday," I said, "you're under indictment."
I called George Strickler, at LCDC. He was somewhat exasperated. "I've been trying to call you all morning. Come right to the office."
Since we'd gotten the injunction against the police, we were turning off our phone at night. We went to the LCDC office and Strickler called the police to surrender us voluntarily. Why we hadn't been arrested in one of those 3 a.m. arrests that police are so fond of, I dont know. Bond was set at $5000 each.
were arrested for a cover
showing a young man masturbating
over a PLAYBOY magazine
Louis Zervigon, head of the ACLU, who we knew only slightly phoned his wife, Mary, who we
knew not at all and she came to the courthouse where, in an incredible act of generosity,
they signed a property bond on their house to get us out. We were in and out within an
We were arrested for the cover of a September '69 issue. It showed a young man masturbating over a cover of PLAYBOY, and the words were from the PLAYBOY ad, "what kind of man reads Playboy. . ." The design was not by us. We had seen it in a Grinnel, Iowa women's liberation paper and reprinted it.
(Right after the issue came out I was at an ACLU dinner and had some papers with me. Luis Zervigon came over and asked for a paper.
"I want to send it to the NY office," he said, "and show them what we can get away with down here.")
We printed one of the government-submitted documents which ended with the words, "that if such activities as ours were allowed to continue, the republic could not long endure." We added the comment, "Right on!?"
I was reminded of this when I read The Life of John Stuart Mill, in which the author says how pleased Mill was at the 100-page attack on his Logic (published in 1843) which said if his "principles be adopted as a full statement of the truth, the whole fabric of Christian theology must totter and fall."
We were represented by the ACLU and LCDC. Richard Sobol and John Martin were the attorneys. I was at the ACLU office (LCDC and the ACLU both had offices at 606 Common) when Beverly Jackson, the secretary-director, said to me, "Darlene, I know how important this case is, but do we have to fly around TWO lawyers?"
The first time I met Richard (who was our friend as well as attorney) after the indictment he was waiting for us in a Quarter restaurant. I walked up to him and said "you told me they didn't take us seriously."
"I knew you'd say that," he responded.
Sobol, who was the chief counsel of LCDC, asked John Martin, a friend of his from law school and at the time chief of the criminal division in the US Attorneys Office in Manhattan, to help in the case since though Sobol had handled many civil rights legal cases he'd never handled a federal criminal case and Martin had.
The defense stressed the "redeeming social value" of the ad and the indictments were dismissed by Judge Alvin Rubin in September, 1970. Part of his opinion said, "although the publication does not belong on the same shelf as Lady Chatterly's Lover, it was still protected by the Constitution. I was mildly offended with his insinuation that NOLA Express was not not much in the literary line. I believed then and still do that the writing and art in NOLA Express can stand with anything done at the time.
We agreed with Gallinghouse, that the "republic could not long endure" if we continued our work but for us this was something looked forward to rather than dreaded. In one issue we printed a photo of the ROTC building at Tulane in flames with the caption:
It burned in April of 1970, the night Rennie Davis came to Tulane to speak. Davis, one of the Chicago Seven, said, referring to the NOLA Express indictment, "the conspiracy will come to New Orleans."
After his talk at Tulane, several of us were eating (Kentucky Fried Chicken, about which I later wrote an article), and talking at Mike Higson's apartment on Magazine Street. Someone phoned to tell us the ROTC building was burning. Rennie turned a little pale "THAT'S never happened before."
A few minutes later a friend came to the door saying it was perhaps best that Rennie leave the state before his scheduled flight the next day and she drove him out of Louisiana that night.
The day after the burning, Tulane students (the "Tulane Liberation Front") took over the Student Union for six days. We went to Tulane to interview some students and were happy to see pages from NOLA Express pasted on the walls of the Student Union.
By spring of 1970, we had the Christenberry injunction and we were under indictment.
There were more arrests than there'd been the previous year. I don't want to exaggerate the dangers but, still, it was a kind of war zone on the streets of the Quarter. Who orchestrated the campaign to get NOLA Express I don't know. I didn't move in such circles. We dealt with the agents of this campaign, the police.
Combined with the efforts against NOLA Express was the effort to remove the streets of "undesirable elements." Who coined that memorable phrase I don't know, either, but it may have been Chief of Police Giarusso or the mayor, Moon Landrieu.
There were large numbers of people, mostly young, who were coming to New Orleans in those days, especially at Mardi Gras. Now of course, New Orleans depends on and welcomes large numbers at Mardi Gras but only if they come with money to spend. The "undesirable elements" were Stark's constiuency---who sold NOLA Express and ate at Buster Holmes'.
Mike Higson designed a cover for NOLA Express with an irreverent flag and the headline "we're all undesirables." In the same issue we printed Patrick Kelly's wonderful cartoon which shows a young man with long hair holding a NOLA Express under his arm shaking hands with a uniformed cop. The cop is saying:
"Undesirable element, I presume" and the young man is saying, "Fascist pig, I believe."
Also in that issue, we printed a copy of the telegram we received from Giarusso which said something like "Send us immediately a list of all NOLA Express vendors."
Even if we were willing to do so, which of course we weren't, Giarusso probably knew this was impossible, since the vendors changed all the time and he had probably composed the telegram with an eye to Judge Christenberry's restraining order showing that these arrests of "undesirable elements" had nothing to do with NOLA Express.
In other words the old technique of "divide and conquer." We responded with our own telegram saying something like "Send us immediately a list of NOPD agents."
The arrests continued. We got a phone call from someone who said he was in the police deptartment telling us that our photos (myself and Robert) were circulated among the cops on the beat telling them to be sure not to arrest us. And the "war" spread to people having nothing to do with NOLA Express or the vendors. Just a general overzealousness, I presume.
Playboy bunny tried
to stop the cops from beating a man senseless
and so they beat her
People were being beaten on the streets. People like Wayne Jacobs and Sheila Burke. Sheila
was a 22 year old Playboy bunny who worked in the Playboy club on Bourbon Street.
One night after work she saw police beating a young man senseless. She told them to stop
and when they didn't she threw a drink at one of them and she was clubbed and arrested.
Where were our fellow guardians---the Times-Picayune and States Item---of the free press and civil liberties? There was not a word from the Sam Newhouse papers. Apparently it was okay with the editors and publishers that another newspaper was indicted and okay for police to be arresting and beating people on the streets of the French Quarter. And what about those bastions of free intellectual life and thought---the universities? I'm not here referring to the individual students and teachers but to the adminstration.
In an early issue of NOLA Express, we published an article on the regents of Tulane showing the interconnection with the New Orleans power structure. Does this explain their silence?
The only sounds worth noting from Tulane were and still are the cries of our relatives, the tortured primates at Tulane's Primate Center. And I do believe that Tulane in its archives has a complete run of NOLA Express. Or so I have been told.
As for LSUNO the only peeps from the administration during those years were two. The first was their being solicitous to the military by providing a place for the draft exemption exams.
And in the early '70s the administration roused itself to demand that the SDS chapter not refer to itself as LSUNO SDS, lest it be thought that the university in any way sanctioned the organization.
The non-actions of the officials of the newspapers and universities did not so much indicate a maliciousness but rather an indifference---an indifference to the fate of others. As in the slogan, "bring the war home," the war was brought home in that an indifference to the fate of the Vietnamese became an indifference to the fate of others here as well.
In the words of the poet whose name I've unfortunately forgotten, "it's easy to see the Mekong in the Mississippi."
The means to this indifference was the labelling of people with terms like "undesirable" or "pornographer" and saying your fate has nothing to do with mine. This is one reason why we always refused to call ourselves an "underground" newspaper. It was not only that the label was inaccurate, since our writing and publication was quite open, but that the label of "underground" was quite convenient for those who would dismiss us.
Another newspaper of indifference was the New York Times. Roy Reed was its representative in New Orleans. He was a very affable man, and his articles were always of what Robert called "Negro and watermelon stories." Never in his years in New Orleans was there anything on anti-war activity, on the suit against Nixon, or on the arrests in the Quarter. He liked deep South accents and amusing eccentricities.
More than 400 people were arrested that spring, many on charges of vagrancy. Many of these were vendors. Stark was once again on the front lines finding out badge numbers and the charges. We went back into federal court. One of the young women vendors testified that she was arrested for obscenity after an undercover cop had made a rude remark to her and she had said he didn't have to be such a "smartass."
Judge Christenberry pointed out that a long running show had a large billboard prominently displayed outside its doors on Bourbon Street saying "Nobody Likes a Smart Ass."
A Bourbon Street proprietor testified for the police that he didn't like these people hanging around in front of his place of business. Asked to identify who was standing around, he couldn't, saying, "All those beatniks look alike."
When one of the city's witnesses said that vendor, Bill Henke, wasnt really a vendor, that he was trying to get "under the umbrella" of the injunction, Judge Christenberry said, "you can't arrest people because you don't like the way they look or the way they live."
He also pointed out that the police van with large letters on the side saying, "Obey the Law," parked across the street from the federal courthouse was in a no parking zone. Judge Christenberry found Patrolman Hubert (he was one of the patrolmen assigned to Bourbon Street) in contempt of court for arresting vendors and fined him $100.
A month later we overreached ourselves and attempted to have the chief of police held in contempt for leading a conspiracy to have vendors arrested. Christenberry was willing to believe that individual police might violate a person's rights but it was clear from the beginning that he would not believe the chief of police was orchestrating a campaign to do so. ##
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