You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 7:17 a.m.

White Panther Party coming home to Ann Arbor, 40 years after bringing John Lennon to town in aid of John Sinclair

By Will Stewart

Related story: John Sinclair recalls impact, importance of Freedom Rally

They came from all over.

Runaways, university students, traveling counter-culture scenesters. And they all found a home away from home in two enormous houses on Hill Street, where they made a lot of noise, talked a lot of revolution, smoked a lot of grass and caused quite a stir around sleepy little Ann Arbor.


White Panthers at 1520 Hill St., Ann Arbor, 1970

photo by Leni Sinclair

And they’re coming back home.

Members of the White Panther Party, the communal tribe of politicized hippies who lived at 1510 and 1520 Hill St., are staging a reunion to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the high-profile, star-studded concert they staged at Crisler Arena to secure the prison release of the party’s charismatic figurehead, John Sinclair.

Once again, they’re coming from all over.

“We realized that we were starting to lose some of our friends from those days,” said Anne LaVasseur-Mullen, one of the reunion’s organizers, who moved to the commune on her seventeenth birthday in November 1970. “I really wanted to do this as a tribute to the family we had back then, because we really did some crazy and incredible things.

“I think it’s important that we have a chance to look each other in the eyes before we go over that hill for the last time.”

Talk to former members of the White Panther Party for more than a minute or two and that word keeps coming up: family.

“We made lifelong friends,” said Peggy Bach. “They were all like our brothers and our sisters.”

In fact, Bach was drawn to the party’s house at 1510 Hill Street, because her older brother, Skip Taube, was hanging out there. It’s where she met her husband, Frank Bach, who was then the lead singer in the popular local band The Up, which was also based out of the houses on Hill Street.

“In my case, it really did turn into family.”

The White Panther Party, which was named for its self-declared alignment with the Black Panther Party, arrived in Ann Arbor after Sinclair’s Detroit Artists Workshop commune was squeezed out of Detroit in the wake of the city’s riots.

In bucolic Ann Arbor, just as the anti-Vietnam War movement was fomenting here, Sinclair and his comrades—including the revolutionary rock band MC5, which Sinclair managed—found a perfect environment for a unique social experiment.


Free concert in the park, Ann Arbor, 1972.

Photo by Leni Sinclair

“It was a very heady, interesting time, with free concerts in the park and communal living … the whole thing,” said David Fenton, who arrived in 1971 as a 19-year-old freelance photographer and immediately fell in with Sinclair. “It was a very intense, almost magical time, when we were all so young and so earnest.”

But as the White Panthers’ profile began to rise, Sinclair became a target of the status quo. He was arrested in 1968 for giving two joints to undercover narcotics officers. It wasn’t his first offense, and the system made an example of him, slapping with a 10-year sentence under the state’s stiff narcotics laws.

Immediately, the Panthers, led by Sinclair’s wife, Leni, and brother, David, swung into action—organizing a series of concerts and guerilla actions designed not only to raise a defense fund for Sinclair, but also public awareness of his situation.

“As crazy as it was, we were a pretty organized bunch,” Peggy Bach recalled. “There were a lot of different aspects to the whole thing, all of which were designed to bring attention to the cause.”

And all of which led up to the Freedom Rally. If Sinclair is the defining figure of the White Panther Party, then the Freedom Rally is its defining event—even more so than Panther official Pun Plamondon’s alleged bombing of the CIA recruiting office on campus.


poster by Gary Grimshaw

This wasn’t just some concert in the park. This was the big time, featuringl John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, local hero Bob Seger, folksinger Phil Ochs, poet Allen Ginsberg, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, jazz giant Archie Shepp and countless other bands, poets and counter-culture figures.

As members recalled, the Feedom Rally was shaping up to be yet another in a series of low-key events, until Yippee leaders Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman convinced their pal John Lennon that he should come to Ann Arbor in support of Sinclair’s release.

Lennon and Ono eventually agreed, leaving organizers just two weeks to get a show together that would be worth of a visit not only from a former Beatle, but one who would be performing live in the U.S. for the first time since the band’s demise.

“Needless to say, this was a very big deal,” Lavasseur-Mullen said.

Fenton, who by now had begun running publicity for the Panthers and their de-facto newspaper, The Arbor Sun, was among those who swung into action.

“I was the guy who called all the radio shows to make the announcement,” he said. “No one could believe it was really happening.”

In fact, no one was really willing to believe it was true until Lennon and Ono arrived in town.

Just a year after arriving in Ann Arbor, Lavasseur-Mullen found herself serving as one of the show’s two MCs.

As gender equality wasn’t as high on the Panthers’ list as reforms to the status quo, she said she was consigned to announce the show’s lesser acts, while her male counterpart got to announce the big names.

“Still, standing up in front of 10,000 people was a really big deal,” she said. “That was a lot of people to be looking out at as an 18-yea- old.”

Although everyone’s recollections are pretty fuzzy after 40 years, among other factors, (“I remember all these people breaking out literally pounds of pot in the audience,” Fenton said) they all agree that the concert was long. Too long.

Lennon and Ono didn’t hit the stage until well after 3 a.m., at which point they performed a short set, including the tune “John Sinclair,” which the former Beatle wrote for the occasion.

“We came here not only to help John and to spotlight what's going on, but also to show and to say to all of you that apathy isn't it, and that we can do something,” Lennon said on stage. “"Okay, so Flower Power didn't work. So what? We start again."

Ironically, just before the concert, the Michigan State Senate approved a bill that would exclude marijuana from the state’s narcotics code and cut the penalties for marijuana use from 10 years to 90 days. The Senate also agreed to reconsider existing convictions.

Still, when Sinclair was released from prison the following Monday, it was hailed as a victory of the people over “The Man.”

Indeed, it was more likely the result of some really groovy timing.

“It was the culmination of so many things we’d been doing,” Peggy Bach recalled. “It seemed to us as if we’d really made it happen.”

Rock and revolution

The Ann Arbor District Library is marking the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rally in a number of ways. For more information, see

  • • "Rock and Revolution" exhibit at the Downtown Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave., with a special opening reception with Michael Erlewine, Leni Sinclair and Gary Grimshaw on Friday, Dec. 2 from 7-8:30 p.m.
  • A Commander Cody Band Concert at The Ark, 316 S. Main St., with special guest John Sinclair & Beatnik Youth on Friday, Dec. 9. Admission is free.
  • The launch of a new website, "Freeing John Sinclair," starting Dec. 9 as part of the library's website,
  • A panel discussion featuring John and Leni Sinclair, Pun Plamondon, David Fenton, and Genie Parker moderated by Professor Bruce Conforth at the Michigan Union, 530 S. State St., on Saturday, December 10, at 1 p.m.
Now, this Friday, former White Panther Party members and associates will reunite in the Michigan Union Ballroom. In addition, the Ann Arbor District Library has organized a series of events to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rally.

While the rally was the Panthers’ public high-water mark, their work didn’t end there. By 1972, with change in name to the Rainbow People’s Party, the group had organized its Human Rights Party and gained seats on the Ann Arbor City Council.

“We were able to do a lot of good for a lot of people,” said Fenton, who now runs his own communications company in New York City. “I learned everything I know about my career back then.”

By 1975, the commune had folded and its members began to disburse. The Bachs moved to Detroit to raise their family and organize at the local level. LaVasseur-Mullen moved to Hawaii, where she is a high school art teacher. Fenton moved back to New York to work for Rolling Stone magazine.

An era had ended. But Ann Arbor would never really be the same.

“A lot of us never saw one another again,” Fenton said of the reunion. “So this is really exciting.

“We were so young and half crazy, but now we’ve all grown up and are growing old.”


Aron Kay

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 : 4:25 a.m.

we were young and wild back in those daze!!! we have aged physically but our hearts are in the same place!!! fighting for rock, reggae, rap, revolution and reefer is still happening!!! freeing john sinclair is a stepping stone to freeing our prisoners of weed!!! lets bring it on and free our pow's


Sat, Dec 3, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

Who cares about bunch of hippes from the 70s. I was busy earning a living back then to support my family. It gives real liberals like me a bad name. Those idiots wer not liberals, but a bunch of antisocial drug using radicals who thought they were superior to the rest of society.

Rod Reinhart

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

The Free John Sinclaire Rally was an inspiration then, in 1970, and it is an inspiration today. The same spirit that inspired our parents and grand parents to stand up against Nazi and totalitarian oppression, also inspired us to stand up against small town... and national governmental oppression. It is that same spirit that causes us and our children to stand up against the oppression of Wall Street, the Tea Party and the big banks. For all of the negative and dangerous parts of the movement, let us remember that the movement was all about personal, social and cultural freedom. Let us set our difficulties and anxieties aside. Let us gather together to celebrate this great day. Let us arise and dance.


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

those times changed a lot of things.wonder if they're still preaching revolution or if they're working 9-5.

Ron Abfalter

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 9:24 p.m.

As a person in the above picture I would love to be there to see old friends. The hype and publicity is another matter. Better to just have a quiet reunion and move on. I can't attend in person but will be there in spirit. R


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 9:04 p.m.

I always wonder if this crowd ever feels responsible for some of the world events of their time like the killing fields of Cambodia and the Vietnamese boat people. 2 events that can be traced directly from of the American antiwar political culture.

Abu Gary

Mon, Jul 2, 2012 : 1:19 a.m.

Hmmm, Hammer, you can trace the Khmer Rouge killing fields directly back to two things - the secret dropping of 2,756,941 tons of bombs on Cambodia, combined with the bizarre version of Maoism cooked up by the Khmer Rouge. This is considerably more tonnage than the allies dropped in all theaters in WW2, I believe it made the Khmer Rouge even more fanatical. After the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge out of power, both Carter and Reagan supported them against Vietnam and their allied government in the capital. The US supported the Khmer Rouge as being the authentic government of Cambodia in the UN!


Fri, Dec 2, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

So anti-war protesters were responsible for atrocities committed by our military? What the heck? LOL


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

we don't need any more idiots in AA.

hut hut

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

I was a Psychedelic Ranger at the Free John Rally.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 5:39 p.m.

I went to the Bob Seger concert a couple weeks back.

Michigan Man

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 5:18 p.m.

hut hut = my condolences to you! Over the years, I hope your career has taken a turn for the better? I suspect that you are not part of the 1% crowd?


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:36 p.m.

Far out dude.

Chip Reed

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

Pun (and Skip and Jack) didn't bomb the CIA office in town. I don't think I'm allowed to say who did it, but it wasn't them. After I went to their arraignment in Detroit, the FBI came to Pioneer H.S. and took depositions from all my teachers. It must have taken a lot back then to get two natural enemies such as the FBI and CIA to work together...


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:36 p.m.

So you have some information that can solve this mystery then Citizen? You better watch out or Obama will Patriot Act you!


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:47 p.m.

didnt sinclair sell the infamous '2 joints' to a cop that had busted him previously?

hut hut

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:31 p.m.



Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.

At least these people had a reason to Protest, What is the Reason for that group camping out Downtown?

hut hut

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 4:31 p.m.

Economic injustice. The same issues from 40 years ago and longer. The haves greedily working their magic to the detriment of everyone else Hail the "job creators" who invest in themselves and not the US economy.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

I had never heard of Pun Plamondon before. If I make the leap that the data in Wikipedia are correct, it appears that he never served any meaningful sentence for his bombing activity. It says that he was held for 32 months, but the charges were dismissed due to illegal wiretapping by the government. If this is true, it seems a shame that there should be any kind of celebration and/or self-congratulatory reunion of the people involved in what was, quite simply, domestic terrorism. Am I off base here? I mean, some of these folks no doubt did work for meaningful change and should take pride in their efforts. I have a hard time with this particular incident, though. Seems like it got swept under the rug in the article. Comments are appreciated.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

Regarding the bombing of the car outside the ROTC office. As luck would have it I was about half way through with replacing the windows. I had my tools locked up in the armory in the basement. I recall driving to work that morning and hearing about the bombing on my way. Some of the windows I had just redone ( that was no easy task it took 12 separate pieces of trim to match the old cornice) were blown out. Went in got my tools and went back after about a week as I recall. Just thought I would throw that out there.

Michigan Man

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

justwondering: You are right on the money with your comments relative to this matter - I need to be cautious in using my words as I just had another post removed by the editorial police - The violence in the 1970's directed toward the U of M ROTC, Air Force and others in Ann Arbor has not been fully resolved. I am a long time Ann Arborites, attended Ann Arbor schools in the 50's and 60's, graduated from U of M in Ann Arbor - I can assure you that some of my contemporaries from that era in Ann Arbor do not view this matter as cute, benign or worthy of any real attention.

David Briegel

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

Will, good articles. It truly was an eventful time in our local history. Rusty, you are correct that much more needs to be done to improve the insane, ineffective, costly and wasteful War on Sanity/Drugs. And "the historical moment" was NOT in our favor which is why, seeing the futility, they went on with their lives. The Hash Bash continues and John usually shows up to support the cause. More than 50% of our citizens think pot should be legal. It takes a long time for politics to catch up. Are you active in any capacity that we might help with?

rusty shackelford

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

I'm glad people get back together to see their friends and so on but this kind of semi-boastful nostalgia really grates on me. You people had the historical moment in your favor. You messed around with it for a few years then abandoned not only MI (typical) but most of your ostensible beliefs. Maybe if you'd actually continued to fight for what you claimed to believe in the world would be a lot better place by now. I guess it's fine you had your fun for a few years but you seem to want continual recognition as some kind of historical force. Typical boomers.

hut hut

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:03 p.m.

I always look for the "but," then I stop reading.

hut hut

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Some folks just can't get past their own selves and see the big picture. Everything rusty comments on revolves around HIS recollections. Rusty, those are YOUR disappointments and have nothing to do with what happened then and what's happening now. People who shared time and space together want to see their friends again. Those were historic moments in Michigan and Ann Arbor. Why do you have to inject your disappointments on them and those times? Typical kvetching from the peanut gallery.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

Just curious Rusty. Were you around here at that time? Don't mean anything by this question.


Thu, Dec 1, 2011 : 1:22 p.m.

If I was a drug dealer I'd be hanging out in front of the Union this weekend.