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13 December 2010

On this day in history: John Sinclair released from prison, 1971

Born in Flint, Michigan, in 1941, John Sinclair became a major figure in the late 1960s counter-culture movement. He wrote for the underground press, organised free festivals and managed the garage rock band MC5. In 1968 he co-founded the White Panther Party with Lawrence Plamondon and his partner Leni Arndt, in response to an interview in which the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, asked what white people could do to support the Panther's cause.

In July 1969, Sinclair was convicted of giving two marijuana joints to an undercover policeman. The presiding judge, Robert Colombo, sentenced him to between nine-and-a-half and ten years in prison. While incarcerated he wrote books, continued to direct activities of the White Panther Party, and engaged in an appeal against his conviction, questioning the constitutionality of Michigan's draconian marijuana laws.

His cause attracted widespread support, culminating on on 10th December 1971 with the "Free John Now Rally" at the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor. The event was opened by the beat port Allen Ginsberg and featured music from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger. Abbie Hoffman (co-founder of the Youth International Party), Jerry Rubin (social activist), Bobby Seale (chairman of the Black Panthers) all made speeches, as did Sinclair himself, via a remote hookup.

The day before the event, the Michigan Senate had approved a bill to cut the maximum penalty for marijuana from ten years to ninety days. As a consequence the 15,000 who attending the eight hour concert were confident that Sinclair would soon be released. Indeed, on 13th December 1971, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favour of Sinclair and he was released from prison.

The Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan houses the John and Leni Sinclair Papers, and hosts a biography of John Sinclair on its website.

Related posts
Night of the Barricades: 10th May 1968
The Catonsville Nine: 17th May 1968
Buffalo Nine arrested: 19th August 1968
Tlatelolco Massacre: 2nd October 1968
Rodney Riots: 16th October 1968


The Painted Veil said...

Please don't think I advocate the use of any kind of illegal drugs. But, ten years is just ridiculous.

I like it when you focus more on history that is from the 20th century.

Thanks for sharing!

Stepterix said...

I think that there was a political dimension to his sentence.

I do post about a lot of C20th events, even though my period is the late-C18th. The further into the past you look the fewer sources you find. So sometimes I have to look hard for pre-C19th events. Nevertheless, there will be many more posts about the last century to come.