A group of current and former college and university students started the Kudzu newspaper in Jackson in 1968, at the height of the American countercultural movement. Founders David Doggett and Everett Long, both of whom had attended Millsaps College, and a small staff that included Cassell Carpenter and Mike Kennedy published the paper, which featured news and opinion about youth and rebellion both locally and worldwide, until 1972. The paper began as a biweekly but was eventually published on a six-week schedule.
Doggett, a leader of the Southern Student Organizing Committee in Mississippi, had helped publish a few issues of Free Southern Student in 1965, and similar publications—Mockingbird (1966) and Unicorn (1968)—followed. By those standards, the Kudzu’s four-year run was quite a success. The first issue featured a drawing of the state of Mississippi covered in kudzu and a few other images—black and white hands clasping, a peace sign, a lynching tree, a burning cross, a mushroom, and a bong or hookah. The second issue clarified that its organizers hoped “A New Spirit Rising in the South” would, like kudzu, spread everywhere.
The Kudzu mixed protest news and philosophy with music and lifestyle issues. A columnist using the pen name Colonel Sartoris Snopes discussed issues specific to the South. Several other authors wrote lengthy pieces about philosophical and ethical issues, especially the meaning of revolution. Staff sought to make the newspaper a collective effort, with no clear authority figure determining content. Like many underground newspapers, the Kudzu struggled with funding, finding outlets for sale, and printing deadlines.
Kudzu staff covered student protests and condemned violence against protesters at Mississippi Valley State College, Jackson State College, and Tougaloo; consistently called for an end to the Vietnam War; and showed support for civil rights and revolution in the South and beyond. According to an early piece by Doggett, Kudzu staff members “strive to ally ourselves with unemployed and working class whites and with the black movement for liberation.” More broadly, the Kudzu staff hoped that the newspaper would help put them “in contact with our generational brothers in San Francisco, New York, Paris, and Prague.” Most articles were written by staff members, but the paper also reprinted stories from the Underground Press Syndicate.
Part of the significance of the Kudzu lay in the severity of the responses to the newspaper and its staff. In the fall of 1968 the principal of Jackson’s Callaway High School alerted the police that Kudzu staff members were selling copies on campus, and the police arrested the staff on obscenity charges related to the newspaper’s content as well as on charges of pandering to minors and littering. When Kudzu staff helped organize the Mississippi Youth Jubilee in Edwards in 1969, “featuring music & poetry & guerilla theatre & politics & music & art & people & love & freedom,” the entire event took place under close police supervision. In 1970 Jackson police had staff members under surveillance for some time before ransacking the house where most Kudzu staff members lived and arresting them for the possession of one bag of marijuana. Staff members claimed the police must have planted the drugs in the house. Jackson’s two major white newspapers, the Clarion-Ledger and the Daily News, opposed the Kudzu and its causes. The Clarion-Ledger referred to the newspaper’s staff as “the Kudzu House hippies,” while the Daily News published names of all Kudzu staff members and in 1970 ran an editorial condemning the magazine’s open support for marijuana, overall opposition to respectability and authority, and its poor spelling and editing: “It’s all based so strongly on trash and tripe and error and an overweening obscenity of thought and word that trying to read and discuss it boggles the mind.”
Volunteers bucking a system that had the power to make their lives difficult had difficulty sustaining the publication. By the fall of 1969 a Kudzu column reported that only three of the original eight staff members still lived in Jackson and worked for the publication: “Pigs make life in Jackson hazardous but it’s mostly the little things that drive people away—dope’s scarce and expensive, nobody hires long-hairs, even bands can’t find work, nobody has any bread, there’s no place to hang out, people curse you on the street, and it’s almost impossible to find a place to live without being evicted.” Nevertheless, publication continued for two more years. The newspaper demonstrates the presence and challenges faced by Mississippi’s youth counterculture.
- Donald Cunnigen, Journal of Mississippi History 2 (2000)
- Kudzu Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Gregg L. Michel, Struggle for a Better South: The Southern Student Organizing Committee (2004)