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Detroit Historical Museum to showcase Fifth Estate … underground newspaper, original media disrupter


By Maureen McDonald

The year was 1965.

President Lyndon B. Johnson ramped up the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam from 120,000 to 400,000. Rev. Martin Luther King led 25,000 civil rights marchers on a four-day march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Jerry Garcia formed the Grateful Dead. Young women in London began wearing mini-skirts and thousands of teenagers took to the streets in a celebration of cruising.


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Journalists covered all those but many missed some of big events like rise of the MC-5 band, the big acts at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, the antiwar protests at Central Methodist Church, and the colorful shops along the short-lived Plum Street. Counter culture, in the era of baby boomers, had a treasure trove of issues mostly ignored by the mainstream presses.

That led to the 1965 founding of the Fifth Estate, which chronicled those events … and many more.

You can learn more about how this underground paper on October 21 at the Detroit Historical Museum during a panel discussion called “The Fifth Estate and the Rise of Engaged Journalism” featuring Fifth Estate founder Harvey Ovshinsky. He started the publication in 1965 while a student at Mumford High School.

Ovshinsky shares the podium with long-time editor and radio talk show host Peter Werbe. It starts at 6:00 pm and is sponsored by the Detroit Press Club.

Harvey Ovshinsky

Harvey Ovshinsky

“We’re looking forward to this,” says Ovshinsky, who is also a lifelong writer, documentary producer, story teller and educator. “Peter and I have each spoken separately about the Fifth Estate and its history, but we don’t often get a chance to talk about it together.”

Over the years it gave rise to a number of publications in print and online including the Metro Times, Orbit, and Model D Media with strident viewpoints that went beyond the established media.

“Long before the internet revolutionized how newspapers reported the news, underground papers like the Fifth Estate were the original media disrupters,” says Robert Sadler, public relations director for the Historical Museum, which is sponsoring an ongoing exhibit about the Fifth Estate. “The paper’s coverage of local anti-war, civil rights and feminist issues, combined with its reporting on Detroit’s youth and counterculture, soon became required reading for reporters at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.”

Peter Werbe

Peter Werbe

Two exhibits celebrating the 50 years of the Fifth Estate are running concurrently. Start the Presses: 50 Years of the Fifth Estate runs through August 2016 in the Historical Museum’s Allesee Gallery of Culture, 5401 Woodward Ave. in Midtown Detroit. Attendees will note there could be detours caused by the M1 construction.

Consult the website for construction maps and alternate roads.

Another, Fifth Estate exhibit, You Can’t Print That: 50 Years of the Fifth Estate runs until January 3, 2016 at the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.  Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead is open Friday – Sunday: 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM. MOCAD is located at 4454 Woodward Ave.

Admission for the October 21 event is $20 for Detroit Press Club members and $25 for non-members. It is open to the general public. Pizza, salad and soft drinks will be served and guests can tour the museum. Parking in the lot is free. To RSVP or for more information contact Kathlyn Putnam at or call (248) 562-7685.

The Press Club is a recently revised organization drawing its roots from the 100-year club that offers fellowship, meetings, training and camaraderie among media professionals. Meetings explore topics of history, sustaining jobs and publishing. Visit

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