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August 1970 issue of Space City!, cover image courtesy Houston Metropolitan Research Center

Underground in H-Town

“The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is watching you.”

An arrow bearing that note was shot into the Space City! office. The incident was one among many threats and acts of violence against progressive and radical institutions in Houston. The KPFT station transmitter was bombed off the air twice. Bullets were shot at and yellow paint thrown on the walls of Margaret Webb Dreyer‘s gallery, which she ran out of her home from 1961 to 1975. The gallery had served as a counterculture hub according to Thorne Dreyer, her son and an editor of Space City!.

Thorne Dreyer shared these stories at an event on alternative media also featuring veteran writers Tom Curtis, Gabrielle Cosgriff, and Michael Berryhill. The Museum of Printing History hosted the panel discussion in conjunction with “Underground in H-Town,” an exhibition that highlights the importance of minority and alternative publications in local history.

Space City! was published from 1969 to 1972, a part of an international explosion of underground papers set off by the introduction of low-cost offset printing.

Houston in the 60s and 70s is never represented as a hotbed of dissent on par with San Francisco or New York. “The main thing about Houston was that it was all spread out,” Dreyer said in a similar talk at the Houston Zine Fest. “There was no Houston there, [only] community in bits and pieces everywhere. Houston is much more of a city now than it was then. What Space City! did was to help to identify all these pockets of progressive politics and kindred spirits, and pull them together into a cohesive spirit…a network of countercultural stuff.”

Gabrielle Cosgriff picked up the discussion where Dreyer left off. She partnered with Janice Blue to publish Breakthrough from 1976 to 1981. They named it after La Brecha, a book written by Mercedes Valdivieso, a Chilean feminist who taught literature at the University of Houston and Rice University. Cosgriff talked about Breakthrough‘s support of Kathy Whitmire in her election to Houston city controller and mayor. The recent election of a lesbian mayor and a city council with an equal gender balance, she argued, can be traced back to efforts three decades earlier.

In its last year of publication, Breakthrough became a general-interest publication — “women’s issues are everybody’s issues” said Cosgriff — and named David Crossley as a co-editor. Crossley has gone on to lead Houston Tomorrow. Cosgriff serves on the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle.

The audience in the small auditorium included activist Gloria Rubac, writer David Theis, and many other notable people. Alternative media scholar and Rice Media Center staffer Tish Stringer recorded the discussion on video. There were some young people absorbing the history including Culturemap writer Steven Thomson and Emily Hall of PH Design.

Organized in partnership with the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, “Underground in H-Town” presents original documents and images from community papers and the alternative press from the second half of the twentieth century, with a special focus on the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Papers presented in the exhibition include historic issues of Forward Times, Voice of Hope, Space City!, The Jewish Herald Voice, El Papel Chicano, El Sol De Houston, Houston Breakthrough, among others. It is worth a visit.

For more information, visit The Rag Blog post on the exhibit by Shane Patrick Boyle. The Rag Blog is edited by Thorne Dreyer.

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    2 Comments

    1. 1

      Oh, the memories. I fondly remember all of those wonderful publications. Fortunately, Galveston’s In Between Magazine 200 plus issues are in bound volumes in the Rosenburg Library.


    2. 2

      Good to see a packed auditorium and such continued interest from the current generation of zine and web activists. The courage it took for the underground press publishers to continue against great odds, financial setbacks and constant threats from the police, the local Klan and other opponents is too easily overlooked. Being shot at, tear gassed, pulled over time and time again and constantly harassed by the police and FBI isn’t fun and most people simply can’t fade that heat for long. They faced tremendous odds just to get a publication out each week, much less to do quality work that had a real measurable impact on the changing culture of the state. Hats off to Thorne Dreyer, Tom Curtis, Gabrielle Cosgriff and to the museum staff for staging such an important exhibition and seminar. My hope is that funds will become available to tour the state with this truly historic display on press freedom and relevance. If you’re interested in journalism, graphics, zines, civil liberties, etc. don’t miss this exhibition. It says a lot about Dreyer that forty years later his new project RagBlog.com is still stirring up controversy and breaking stories that other media won’t touch. Also check out http://www.theaustinbulldog.org for Ken Martin’s new site for investigating Texas politics. Also very well done. And, of course, the texasobserver.org.