Have you ever noticed an iconic image in multiple settings or used in different ways? Perhaps a Campbell’s soup can label on an Andy Warhol canvas? While not bearing an image as widely known, a poster in Special Collections and Archives can be visually appreciated in different contexts as well. Created by Michael James in August of 1968, the poster with the text “HOT TOWN – PIGS IN THE STREETS… BUT THE STREETS BELONG TO THE PEOPLE! DIG IT?” was produced in the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The provocative text and images foreshadow the eventual confrontation between Chicago Police and anti-Vietnam War activists.
Additional materials from the same era often provide insight on how a primary source may have been used in the time of its creation. An article from an independent newspaper in DePaul’s collections offers visual evidence in this way. A photograph In the June 1969 issue of Second City contains the same “Hot Town…” poster, seen on the wall behind a Black Panther Party (BPP) press conference. The press conference on May 29, 1969, was held to denounce the 2-5 year sentence of BPP leader Fred Hampton, convicted of robbing an ice cream truck. Pictured at the table is Luis Cuza (Young Lords Organization), Les Coleman (Students for a Democratic Society), Bobby Rush (BPP), and William “Preacherman” Fesperman (Young Patriots Organization). The divisive term “pigs” is used throughout the article to identify local government officials and police as oppressors operating above the law. The poster in the accompanying photograph reinforces the strained relationship between local activists and those associated with law enforcement. A reproduction of this photograph is currently on display in the Richardson Library exhibit Young Lords Organization: The Early Years.
DePaul’s original “Hot Town…” poster is currently out on loan and can be viewed as part of the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) at Columbia College Chicago’s exhibition The Many Hats of Ralph Arnold: Art, Identity & Politics. Displayed with Chicago artist Ralph Arnold’s 1968 collage One Thing Leads to Another, the poster provides additional context for the identical image of a cop with a helmet and sunglasses visible in two places in the lower portion of the artwork. Seeing the intact poster as source material offers viewers the opportunity to further contemplate both the meaning of the collage and the impact of the original poster.
The DePaul Art Museum also loaned MoCP another Ralph Arnold collage circa 1968, Who You/Yeah Baby. Regarding the collaboration, DPAM Director and Chief Curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm notes that “by lending this collage to MoCP for their important survey of Arnold’s work, the new scholarship and writing they have created around the exhibition will in turn enhance our understanding of the work in our collection.”
DePaul Special Collections and Archives acquired the “Hot Town…” poster in 2016 to complement our holdings on Chicago activism, and we envisioned its use in a protest-themed exhibit in 2018. When MoCP contacted Special Collections and Archives to inquire about its possible inclusion in the Ralph Arnold exhibition, the choice to lend the poster was clear. The original poster is a striking companion to Arnold’s collage, and, as it turns out the poster still makes an appearance in our 2018 exhibit on the Young Lords Organization, as noted above. Archival documents are strongest in context, interpreted through their associations with other materials created, used, and collected in the same time and place. That the “Hot Town…” poster can be seen in use and re-used in two different exhibits is a testament to its resonance fifty years ago and the enduring impact of its iconographic message.
To learn more about DePaul Special Collections and Archives, visit us in room 314 of the John T. Richardson Library or contact us at libguides.depaul.edu/askspca. For more information on the “Hot Town…” poster, check out Season 8, episode 8 of the PBS series History Detectives.