We ride for the South. Don't you?
During my twenties, I spent all the little money I had in Little Five Points (L5P), one of Atlanta's most eclectic, colorful neighborhoods. I shopped at Sevananda Natural Foods Market Co-op, spent nights at The Vortex, and afternoons at the purple house on the corner of Euclid and Dekalb—home of Charis Books and More, the oldest independent feminist bookstore in the South.
Photos by Mannie Rivers.
I gravitated to that lavender brick bungalow on my first visit to L5P with my college boyfriend more than 15 years ago. As we walked the streets, I admired the sights: A bar on the corner disguised as a giant laughing skull, graffiti all over, thrift stores, record shops, folks playing music for tips. Nothing like this existed in my tiny coastal Georgia hometown.
As a Black queer non-binary woman, I've always felt belonging in L5P, but I wouldn't have been accepted there before the early 1970s. That's when droves of young, white, anti-imperialist feminists descended upon the Bass District (which back then referred to L5P, Candler Park, Inman Park, and Poncey-Highland), laying the foundation for L5P's enduring artsy, alternative culture.
These activists immediately got to work, forming their own businesses and movement organizations. With the exception of Charis, many of their institutions are gone and forgotten. One such business was Sojourner Truth Press (STP), a women's print shop steeped in the liberation movements of its time.
Jane Lifflander was among the first to plant the seeds for the women's printing collective in 1970. Barely out of her teens, she first walked into STP when it was located on "the Strip" on Peachtree, a counterculture hub between Tenth and Fourteenth avenues in Atlanta borne from 1967's "Summer of Love."
"I came with four or five people down from Boston to Atlanta to quote unquote, 'organize the South'—which sounds a little arrogant, but that's what we thought we were doing," Lifflander, now 70, told me during a phone call.
Upon her arrival, Lifflander settled into a L5P women's commune—a rundown five-bedroom house with $100 a month rent—and immediately hunkered down. At the time, L5P comprised poor white people, as a result of "white flight" driving away the middle class. Conditions there were ripe for social change. Lifflander became a founder of the Bass Organization for Neighborhood Development or BOND, as well as the BOND Community Federal Credit Union, a food co-op, and WRFG—the same neighborhood radio station that would interview me for my organizing work with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta nearly 40 years later.
Getting the BOND newsletter printed brought Lifflander to STP, where most movement printing happened at the time. There, she met the owner, Barry Weinstock, who was looking for help in the shop and subsequently hired and trained Lifflander.
Weinstock, 78, spoke with me over the phone from where he lives outside of Atlanta about starting STP—and why he walked away. He got into anti-war activism and printing as a college student. After graduating, Weinstock journeyed through the South, ending up in Tennessee printing for the Southern Educational Conference Fund, a defunct organization that was dedicated to dismantling racial segregation in the South.
In 1969, Weinstock returned to Atlanta to start his own movement press with a small loan. Someone suggested naming it "Sojourner Truth Press," which he said rang about five bells at one time for him.
"I thought it was a good name for an activist press that was already moving into supporting Black activism and women's activism and gay activism and a bunch of other activism," he said.
When Lifflander and other young movement women began coming into STP, they made quite the impression. Weinstock thought they were smart and strong in their activism. He looked to them when he got ready to move on from the press.
"He turned it over to me and said, 'Make it a women's press.' Since I was living in a women's co-op, I got people there, then Barry taught us all," Lifflander said. "Then, he disappeared for a little while."
A handful of twenty-something-year-old women's liberation activists became the new owners of STP. They were all white, and mostly from middle class families—lesbian, sexually fluid, and straight. They knew they were privileged, and organized in solidarity with Black liberation movements like the Black Workers Congress, an intellectual wing of the Black labor movement. The group of young Black men sometimes used STP's equipment at night in exchange for doing repairs around the shop.
The collective moved the shop to L5P, closer to their communes in the Bass District. They worked out of a building on Moreland Avenue that has since been occupied by the record store Wax'n'Facts since 1976. The sign over their door read "Odd Job Printers," to throw off their conservative, racist neighbors. Inside, an important message hung on the wall: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."
True to their egalitarian feminist values, STP operated the press as a co-op, meeting regularly, making decisions together, and drawing an equal salary of $20 a week.
Most of STP's business came from neighborhood folks with small print jobs. The press also produced materials for nearly all the anti-imperialist movements in town and beyond, printing underground newspapers for GIs disenchanted by the Vietnam War, as well as Albion's Voice, a paper based out of Armstrong State College (now Georgia Southern University) in Savannah. They took on printing a monthly paper for The Furies, a Washington, D.C. lesbian feminist collective, after a local printer reneged.
STP member Nancy Jones Presley, 74, arrived in Atlanta in the late 1960s, and was politicized as a student at Emory University, where she joined Students for a Democratic Society and began volunteering on the layout team of The Great Speckled Bird, a Southern underground anti-imperialist newspaper based in Atlanta affectionately known as The Bird. During a phone interview, she told me one of STP's steadiest jobs was doing prepress work for The Bird weekly.
Every Tuesday, after helping lay out the paper late into the night, Jones Presley would drive the layout sheets to STP, where the collective slept as they waited for her. She would wake them up to get to work taking photos of the layouts with a process camera, stripping negatives as the midnight blue sky morphed into pink, then transported them in her truck to a printer with a web press that could print tabloid sized papers, unlike STP's smaller presses.
STP also published a book by one of their members, the late Vicki Gabriner, titled Sleeping Beauty: A Lesbian Fairytale. In the book, Stephen finds her lesbian happily ever after in "The Land" with Lilith, a girl who awakens her from a 99-year-long sleep—the result of a butch witch's curse—with a kiss. A person credited as "Ginny" painstakingly hand-lettered every single word of the book, and "Gail" drew its charming, distinctly 1970s illustrations. I turned each page of the book gingerly when I thumbed through it at a rare books library to avoid sullying this embodiment of my childhood dreams.
In a December 20, 1971 article for The Bird, Gabriner recounted the making of Sleeping Beauty:
"The writing of the fairy tale came out of several things: overwhelmed by the lack of any homosexual 'heroines' or 'heroes' to identify with in movies, books, TV, ads, etc.; memories of childhood energy and happiness which came from reading; wanting to reach out in some way to other lesbians and to straight-identified women (I hope we can find new names for these categories soon, or even better, stop having to use them at all—soon! However, at the moment, they have some value.) I read many fairy tales and had a lot of fun turning them into homosexual versions… Originally it was going to be a book of six or seven fairy tales, but that changed quickly. (The work required to produce a book—the writing, thinking, editing, illustrating, printing and all its required skills, getting the money, working with other people—turned out to take a lot of time.)"
STP cared about their process as much as their final product, breaking down the usual division between the artist and the technical folks. "The fairy tale belongs to all of us now," Gabriner wrote. They printed the book on colored paper to catch the eye, then collated, folded, and stapled it (binding was too expensive).
Sleeping Beauty's final page reflects their commitment to justice: "We are only charging 50 cents a copy because we are not interested in making a lot of money off you. And we want everybody to be able to buy the fairy tale. All the profit will be put back into the Sojourner Truth press."
Despite the odds, Sleeping Beauty entered the world, becoming an undertold slice of queer history. In 1972, Gabriner went on to become a "founding mother" of the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance (ALFA), one of the first lesbian feminist organizations in the United States. She dedicated her adult life to social justice.
Gabriner often spoke of the impact Atlanta had on her politics, writings, sexuality, and spirituality to her wife, Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, now a professor emerita of Russian women's history. Goldberg Ruthchild, 80, told me over a Zoom call from Brookline, Massachusetts that Gabriner would be thrilled about a younger audience discovering Sleeping Beauty. This lesbian children's book published at a time when being out and proud was completely taboo is a revolutionary text—a book I needed as a queer kid growing up in rural Georgia decades later.
STP accomplished much in the face of adversity. Because of its radical leftist politics, printers with web presses often cut ties with The Bird, STP's most stable customer. Lifflander said the print shop succeeded at being a place where anybody could get their materials printed. Still, their challenges were insurmountable. Despite modernized technology, printing has only become more expensive over the years, as online communications take preference over paper ones.
"We tried to keep our prices competitive with everybody else's, which got harder and harder because we were doing stuff at such small quantities that we couldn't buy paper in large quantities," Lifflander said. She eventually left STP to work at The Bird for a handsome $40 a week.
In the "Harrassles" section of The Bird's February 21, 1972 issue, someone named Marjorie made an ask on behalf of STP: "From their beginning, they have been plagued by all the problems related to starting and maintaining a business without very much money or experience… Just as the Press was in the process of recovering from a December move, which forced them to rebuild their entire printing operation from scratch and put them behind in their printing for a couple of months, somebody came along and ripped off their one and only TRUCK!"
On May 8, 1972, an article appeared in The Bird about the post office's refusal to mail the paper due to "illegal" abortion advertising, forcing STP to scramble to lay out a new version of the issue without the ads. (The paper successfully fought this charge in court).
Then came the nail in the coffin. When the powers that be at Motive, a United Methodist Church magazine, decided the publication had become too radical and needed to end in 1972, two editorial collectives used the remaining budget to independently publish two final issues: one lesbian/feminist edition, and one about gay men's liberation. They asked STP to do the prepress work on the issues, which were to be printed as one publication in order allow readers to read one issue and flip the magazine to read the other. STP members delivered it to a bigger printer to finish the job.
"The head press man took one look at this magazine, and he said 'I'm not going to do it. I'm not printing this,'" Jones Presley said.
The company sent a young representative to deliver the bad news to STP, and he did so in a drunken state.
"He knew how wrong it was, and he liked us. He showed up with his tie untied and his hair disheveled and sat on his desk and practically wept telling us that they weren't going to print this magazine. It wasn't going to happen, and we could sue them if we wanted to. Bring it on," Jones Presley said.
By then, STP's resources were exhausted, and they were also in debt. It was time to close down. The two final issues of Motive were eventually printed separately in fall 1972. (STP is credited as the printer in the lesbian/feminist issue.)
"We had an event that ended us, but I don't think we would have lasted many more years, because it was unsustainable," said Jones Presley.
When they closed, STP gave their equipment to Black Workers Congress. Both Lifflander and Jones Presley continued working in printing. Lifflander, who is retired, still lives in Atlanta and is part of Refuse Facism, an anti-facist coalition. Jones Presley lives in her hometown, Albany, Georgia, where she is her mother's caregiver and volunteers at a community garden.
Weinstock is still printing—Scalawag editors once met with him about possibly printing the magazine, which he regretfully couldn't take on—and maintaining a website for a Quaker publication, Progressive News/Views. He supports Atlanta-based organizations carrying the torch lit by his generation, such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Project South, and the US Human Rights Network.
Remnants of the 1970s still remain in L5P through the BOND Community Federal Credit Union and WRFG, but community staples are fading. Debt forced Charis to sell their purple building in 2019 and relocate to Agnes Scott College's campus in nearby Decatur. Today, $100 a month rent in L5P is unheard of: According to Apartments.com, the average rent for a three-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood is an astronomical $5,406 a month.
L5P never became a lesbian feminist utopia like The Land envisioned in Sleeping Beauty. Still, its 1970s feminist printing movement helped transform the neighborhood into a place where I can always be myself, despite being Black and queer. I hope it stays that way for years to come.
This story wouldn't have been possible without the help of my friend, comrade, and one of ALFA's founding mothers, Lorraine Fontana. Thank you for showing so many of us the importance of intergenerational justice movements.