The underground press movement started in the 1940s during the Nazis’ occupation of Europe. People in countries like France, Denmark, Poland, and the Soviet Union published illegal newspapers while under oppressive regimes. However, the movement continued well into the 1960s and 1970s and is now most associated with the counterculture of that time. These underground newspapers and publications began to spring up all over the United States and Northern Michigan University was no exception.
The term “underground” did not necessarily mean it was illegal, though this was the case in some other countries. In America, “underground newspaper” usually referred to a small independent newspaper focusing on unpopular themes and counterculture issues. In fact the First Amendment, and cases like Near vs. Minnesota, made it nearly impossible for the government to intervene or stop these publications unless people were violating laws while reporting on a news item or while selling the newspapers.
Northern’s first underground newspaper was Cogito (Latin for “to think”) that started in 1967. There were many publications after this including Campus Mirror (1969), Student Action (1969), Black and White (1972), and Broadsheet (1977). However, the one newspaper that stood out among all the rest for its popularity and controversial issues was Peace.
Peace was an underground newspaper published by the student organization Zaca, which was founded on February 25th, 1969. Fred Pentz was the founding president and in their application to become a student organization he wrote that the purpose for Zaca was to “promote student participation in University affairs through various creative adventures including the publishing of a newspaper.”
Many of the articles that Zaca published dealt with University issues such as the closing of the Job Corps, controversy over canceling the ROTC program, and the unequal treatment of black students. They often would write letters to President John X. Jamrich openly ridiculing him and the administration for their policy decisions. A reoccurring column that appeared in Peace issues were letters from King Johannes (President Jamrich) issuing a decree over the Realm of Iswas (Northern) that had to be followed by all the peasants (students) of the land.
An example of an Iswas column, which was posted on the stairs of Kaye Hall after the university banned the distribution of Peace.
The University couldn’t stop Zaca from publishing Peace. However, they were in control of how the paper was distributed. President Jamrich wrote in a memorandum on March 20, 1969 to the Faculty Senate, “The Student Activities Committee has, with Dean Niemi concurring, withheld permission for the distribution of the paper in university facilities because of its content.” He also wrote to the Student Affairs Committee that same day to ask them to meet and discuss recommendations for what action he should take regarding this matter. Over the course of the next few days, they decided that Zaca would be able to sell Peace in the University Center and the Golden N (an old cafeteria). In a memo to Zaca, the Student Activities Committee wrote, “[this committee] which is hereby affording the privilege of sale of your publication, PEACE, also has the right to withdraw this privilege at any time. Withdrawal of this privilege will only occur, however, if your organization is involved in (a) active solicitation; (b) interference with normal traffic on campus; or (c) in the opinion of the Student Activities Committee there has been flagrant use of obscenity in any issue of PEACE.”
Eventually, Jamrich and the Student Activities Committee ordered the termination of distributing Peace on university grounds after an issue was published with vulgar language. For a while Zaca tried to continue publishing the newspaper but with no proper facility for printing or distribution, the newspaper disbanded.
These posters were put up all around campus after the banning of Peace. They asked students to wear the paper bow-tie in protest. (Then-President Jamrich was famous for almost always wearing a bow-tie).
Interested in reading more about Zaca and the Peace newspaper? Come visit the Archives!