While most people associate Amherst College with poets like Emily Dickinson, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Frost, few realize that we are also home to one of the leading collections of underground newspapers from the 1960s and 70s. Marshall Bloom came to Amherst College in the fall of 1962 and graduated with the class of 1966. He participated fully in the civil rights movement that was sweeping across college campuses during that time, and he soon became a major force in the development of the alternative press in the United States. More details of his life are available in the Biographical Note section of the finding aid to The Marshall Bloom Papers held by the Archives & Special Collections.
One of Bloom’s great accomplishments was founding the Liberation News Service whose purpose was to deliver feature stories and news to the “underground” press, student press, radio stations and independent weekly newspapers and magazines as an alternative to established news services such as AP and CPS. In addition to Bloom’s personal papers, the Archives holds The Bloom Alternative Press Collection — a collection of approximately 25,000 issues from more than 3,000 underground newspapers. The collection accrued through an agreement whereby Liberation News Service subscribers submitted one copy of every issue in which Liberation News Service stories were published. After being acquired by Amherst College, the collection has grown through the acquisition of additional titles from various sources.
Yesterday we hosted a reading room full of Amherst students who were studying the social movements of the mid-1970s, with specific interest in the saga of Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and involvement with the SLA. The Bloom Alternative Press Collection is an excellent resource for dipping into the cultural context of that period.
There are thousands of individual titles in the collection, but the depth of our holdings varies from title to title. For some titles, we have merely a handful of issues. Other papers were long-time subscribers to the Liberation News Service, resulting in more complete coverage. We have extensive holdings of all of the papers shown here. What better way to get a sense of the context of the Patty Hearst case than by browsing through back issues of The San Francisco Bay Guardian from 1974-77?
This issue of the Portland Scribe has a cover story that neatly links Bloom to another collection in the Archives — The Jerry Cohen Papers. Jerry Cohen graduated from Amherst College in 1963 and spent 14 years as General Counsel of the United Farm Workers of America and personal attorney of César Chávez. This issue of the Portland Scribe has a picture of Chavez in action right on the cover.
The Bloom Alternative Press collection is so broad in its coverage of the 60s and 70s alternative press that one can find material on practically any social movement of the time. We hold a nearly complete run of The Black Panther and other titles from the Black Power movement. Other titles, such as The Militant and People’s World cover the labor and socialist movements.
One challenge when working with the Bloom Alternative Press Collection is the limited information available in our finding aid. Currently, the finding aid is simply a list of titles in the collection keyed to the box number where the title is stored. If a title is housed in several boxes, that’s a clue that we have a substantial run; when a title is one of a dozen or more in a single box, that usually indicates smaller holdings. To help locate articles on a particular topic, researchers can rely on The Alternative Press Index Archive, a database that covers articles published in alternative press periodicals from 1969 to 1990.