KUDZU
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI    
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HISTORY & BIBLIOGRAPHY
Kudzu's first issue rolled off the press in September 1968, and with that a new "underground" focus in journalism was introduced to the people of Mississippi.  Staff was at first comprised mainly of a few Millsaps College students.  (Millsaps is a small Methodist-supported school of excellent academic reputation and ratings located in the heart of Jackson and is considered very liberal--many times through the years, it was perceived as too liberal to suit the area.  Kudzu was not school-affiliated in any way, and though some members of the Administration cringed at the thought of publicity brought on by the paper, any pressures by the school to curtail its publication were not successful).  Most of the writing was done in-house but was supplemented with content supplied by underground news services of the day, such as LNS (Liberation News Service).  Contributions were welcomed and were often used; news and support staff would grow over time to include student correspondents and distributors from Mississippi State University, Ole Miss, University of Southern Mississippi, and some of the traditionally-negro schools.  Publication was fairly regular; the first issue was in September 1968, and the last was in May 1972.  There was a total of approximately 34 issues of tabloid size, generally about 12 pages each. 

One must keep in mind that Mississippi was, at the time, more than just a place-- it also was a concept,
an
idea.   It seems ironic, indeed, that an underground newspaper the calibre of Kudzu would come to life, much less survive, in such an extremely conservative environment.  Kudzu also was one of the very first of the Southern underground papers to publish--The Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta) preceded it by only a few months, and The NOLA Express (New Orleans) appeared at some point during that same year 1968.  Underground publications in general would have a very troubled existence brought on by those determined to suppress these newfound vehicles of expression, but Kudzu's clash with authority may have been more severe than that experienced by other like papers in the rest of the country, given its time and place.  Mississippi was a truly closed society in every sense.  The local power-elite would do everything it could to make life miserable for those bent on undermining the status quo of the social structure and the Establishment.  This power-elite included the Jackson Police Department, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, the press, higher-ups of the business community, and other assorted citizens.  There also was the FBI which much of the time may have worked in tandem with these local elements.  FBI agents were put in place in increasing numbers, not just in Jackson but in many other cities across the country, and mounted an aggressive, mean-spirited campaign to quell
subversive activities
--the underground press with all its anti-war sentiment, commentary on social injustice, and anti-Establishment discourse was perceived as a growing "clear and present danger" to the national security.  The Kudzu staff would become well-acquainted with the tactics of the power-elite.

Kudzu history is well-documented in various past print media.  However, much of that material is now out of print and/or is relegated to a very limited number of repositories and therefore not easily accessible to most.  I am fortunate to have acquired copies of books, newspaper articles, and periodic journals containing this material, and I will share some of that here in synopses over time.  A bibliography and resource information page is forthcoming very shortly. 

It isn't the point here to agree or disagree with opinions expressed in Kudzu.  Was the paper
sensational
and was it controversial?  Well, yes, most of the time it was--but otherwise, it wouldn't have been alternative or underground.   It was precisely because of both its content and style that Kudzu was forced to fight in the court system for our collective freedom of speech and to continue publishing what it wanted to publish.  That freedom is enjoyed in much larger measure today because of the courage and tenacity of a few young people who tested the waters way back in the late 1960's and early 1970's. 

Without freedom of expression, We the People are not free.  It's hard to believe that it was once that way not so very long ago, and it's troubling to think that it could become that way again--insidiously, little by little, while virtually none of us pay attention to what goes on around us or even care beyond the next "virtual reality" tv show or lottery ticket.  Therein lies the danger of bread and circuses.......
The Unicorn was the immediate predecessor of Kudzu and had a tenure of only about the first five months of 1968.  (Kudzu was born of The Unicorn's editor/publisher in September of that year).  The paper was  8 1/2 x 11-size, mimeographed, generally 2 or 3 sheets printed both sides, stapled together at the top left-hand corner.    
(click on images for larger views.  In addition, all images on this page may be enlarged further for greater detail once new browser window opens). 
Left to right:  v. 1, no. 3 (3-21-68);  .special issue (3-22-68);  v. 1, no. 4 (3-28-68);  MLK (4-04-68).
The Unicorn wasn't an "in-depth" paper but rather "an independent journal of student opinion".  Copies were freely available, stacked on a table in the foyer of the Boyd Campbell Student Center.  But, it's a wonder they were allowed to remain there, considering some of the subject matter:  a campaign to do away with curfews for women students and the sign-in/sign-out process; friendly debate taking issue with editorial content of the Purple and White, the officially sanctioned school newspaper; open letters to the then-President of Millsaps College, addressing the firing of a professor.  1968 was a benchmark for student assertiveness in academic and administrative affairs. 
v. 1, no. 6 (5-09-68).
More Kudzu history will be added in the coming weeks.
All images on this page are taken from my personal collection. .
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Comments about--and remembrances of--Kudzu and those times in Mississippi are welcomed here and will be acknowledged if used (anonymity will be respected if desired).

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--created 25 May 2003
SF