Freeing John Sinclair: The Day Legends Came To Town

The John Sinclair Freedom Rally, held in Crisler Arena on December 10, 1971, is one of the most memorable concerts in Ann Arbor history and one of the most significant in the history of Rock and Roll, due in large part to John Lennon's decision to appear in support of radical White Panther leader John Sinclair, who was currently serving 8 1/2 to 10 years in prison for the possession of two marijuana cigarettes.

But also on the bill that night were Motown's Steve Wonder, folksinger Phil Ochs, and jazz legend Archie Schepp, plus Ann Arbor's own Bob Seger, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Teegarden & Van Winkle and The Up. Speakers included Bobby Seale, Allen Ginsberg, and Rennie Davis.

On the 40th anniversary of the Rally, AADL is launching this site tracing the history behind the Rally, in particular the story of the White Panther and Rainbow People's Parties in Ann Arbor, through a series of interviews; essays; photographs; historical audio files; and thousands of articles from both the Ann Arbor News and the Ann Arbor Sun, the underground newspaper published by the White Panther Party and Rainbow People's Party from 1967-1976.

Highlights of the site include the phone conversation between John and Leni Sinclair and John Lennon and Yoko Ono after Sinclair's release from prison, and our interview with the Honorable Damon J. Keith, Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, about his famous "Keith Decision" in the CIA Conspiracy case. We also interview former White Panther leaders John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon and legendary poster artist Gary Grimshaw.

The essays cover such topics as the hidden history of Ann Arbor's countercultural past and the story behind the Rally. John Sinclair writes about his years in Ann Arbor; Leni Sinclair describes the evolution of the Hill Street commune; and radical lawyer Hugh "Buck" Davis details the Constitutional significance of the CIA Conspiracy case.

But this is just the start. More interviews, historical audio, and browsing options are coming soon!


Freeing John Sinclair is a product of the Ann Arbor District Library in collaboration with the Bentley Historical Library, Cousins Vinyl, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

AADL Talks to Doug Harvey

In this episode, former Washtenaw County Sheriff Doug Harvey shares his memories of the turbulent 1960s in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. He recalls some of the personal, political, and law enforcement challenges he encountered during his years as sheriff - from the 1966 UFO sightings and the South University Riots, to the Coed murders and the John Norman Collins case. He also responds to some of the controversy surrounding his reputation and he speaks candidly about the community leaders and colleagues he admired during these years - and those he did not.

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AADL_Talks_To-Doug_Harvey.mp3 48.78 MB

AADL Talks To Commander Cody

George Frayne, aka Commander Cody, formed Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in 1967 while attending the University of Michigan. We had the opportunity to chat with George backstage at the Ark before the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally (Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen performed at the original Rally in 1971). George spoke about the formation of the band, his memories of some of Ann Arbor's musical hot spots, as well as his introduction to boogie-woogie piano, to pot, and to John Sinclair and the White Panther Party.

For more information on Commander Cody, visit commandercody.com and oldnews.aadl.org.

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AADL_Talks_To-Commander_Cody.mp3 22.86 MB

AADL Talks To David Fenton

While he was in town during the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, we had the chance to sit down with David Fenton, CEO and founder of fenton.com, about his time in Ann Arbor during the late 1960s and early 1970s. During these years David lived at the Hill Street Commune, worked on the Ann Arbor Sun, and helped with the campaign to free John Sinclair. David discusses Sinclair's influence on his personal and professional life; reflects on the excesses - both good and bad - of the countercultural movement as he experienced it, and its legacy 40 years later in its modern counterparts, including moveon.org and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

David also participated in our panel discussion, Culture Jamming: A Long View Back.

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AADL_Talks_To-David_Fenton.mp3 24.8 MB

AADL Talks To Wayne Kramer

While he was in town for the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, Wayne Kramer, lead guitarist and co-founder of the seminal Detroit/Ann Arbor band, MC5, sat down to talk with us. Wayne discusses the early years of the band and the influence of jazz, Sinclair, and Detroit culture on their music. He also talks about his troubles in the years following the band's dissolution; his current work with Jail Guitar Doors and fondly recalls the concerts in West Park.

Read more about Wayne Kramer and the MC5 at oldnews.aadl.org and freeingjohnsinclair.org.

Photo by Robert Matheu

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AADL_Talks_To-Wayne_Kramer.mp3 24.8 MB

Culture Jamming: A Long View Back - A Panel Discussion With John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon, David Fenton, and Genie Parker

On December 10, 2011, the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, AADL invited former White Panther Party and Rainbow People's Party members John Sinclair, Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon, David Fenton, and Genie Parker to the Michigan Union for a panel discussion moderated by Professor Bruce Conforth of the University of Michigan Program in American Culture. These five panelists, central to the actions and ideals surrounding Ann Arbor's late-1960s counter-culture, reflect on what they called their "total assault on culture" during the late 1960s and early 1970s - what worked, what didn't, and what it means today.
View the video here or in other formats.

Photograph courtesy of Barbara Weinberg Barefield.
(Click image for a larger view.)

"Culture Jamming: A Long View Back" Panelists: Pun Plamondon, David Fenton, Leni Sinclair, Genie Parker, John Sinclair; Bruce Conforth, moderator

"Culture Jamming: A Long View Back" Panelists: Pun Plamondon, David Fenton, Leni Sinclair, Genie Parker, John Sinclair; Bruce Conforth, moderator

"Culture Jamming: A Long View Back" panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, December 10, 2011, at the Pendleton Room, Michigan Union, University of Michigan.

L-R: Bruce Conforth, Pun Plamondon, David Fenton, Leni Sinclair, Genie Parker, John Sinclair

Rights Held By: 
Barbara Weinberg Barefield

White Panthers at 1520 Hill Street

Cropped Image: 

Photo courtesy of Leni Sinclair.

Rights Held By: 
Leni Sinclair

John Sinclair in Detroit

Cropped Image: 

Photo courtesy of Leni Sinclair.

Rights Held By: 
Leni Sinclair

MC5

Cropped Image: 

Photo courtesy of Leni Sinclair.

Rights Held By: 
Leni Sinclair
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