John Sinclair: Biography & Poetry

Instructor: Crystal Hall

Crystal has a bachelor's degree in English, a certification in General Studies, and has assisted in teaching both middle and high school English.

John Sinclair is a poet and a civil rights activist who established the White Panther Party in support of civil rights. This lesson will introduce you to both his background and to his poetry.

John Sinclair
John Sinclair

A Poet is Born

Born in 1941 in Flint, Michigan, John Sinclair's family later moved to Davison, a suburb of Flint. Upon entering the University of Michigan, he proceeded to earn a Bachelor of Art degree in American Literature. While in pursuit of a Master of Art degree from Wayne State University, also in American Literature, Sinclair left before completing the degree requirements in order to focus on music, poetry, and activism. As a supporter of artists in Detroit, Michigan, Sinclair co-founded several organizations geared toward their advancement: Detroit Artists' Workshop, Wayne State University Artists' Society, and Artists' Workshop Press. He also co-created a live-in community where people could also work, pursue the arts, and book employment for musical groups.

Fight for Freedom

In addition to supporting the legalization of marijuana, John Sinclair also created the White Panther Party in order to further the civil rights movement and to support the Black Panthers. Founded in 1968 with his wife, Leni, and Lawrence 'Pun' Plamondon, the White Panther Party encouraged racial and cultural integration and equal rights and freedoms for everyone.

In the midst of the 1967 Detroit race riots, Sinclair managed a band, MC5, whose primary musical message was one of revolution. The band shared a house in Detroit, and, due to its established reputation as supporters of social and political change, the FBI kept a close eye on their dwelling. Members of the band, believing they were being targeted by the government, were arrested several times on charges such as incitement, obscenity, and possession of narcotics.

John Sinclair was himself arrested for offering marijuana to an undercover policeman and sentenced to ten years, but he only served two. His release came a few days after the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in December of 1971, which was headlined by such musicians as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, and Bobby Seale (the last three were Black Panther members).


Influenced by Allen Ginsberg and and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Sinclair began to take a keen interest in poetry while attending Albion College. He has published several books of poetry, including This Is Our Music, Fattening Frogs For Snakes, I Mean You: A Book For Penny, and Criss Cross: A Monk Suite. Each book contains poetry that is true to the man that John Sinclair has always remained at heart; he has always embraced poetry as a way of being heard by the masses, as a means of encouraging them to continue forging new paths to social and political change. His thirst for equality and for revolution as a means of achieving it is clearly voiced through his poetic verses.

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