In spring 1957 the Juvenile Division of the San Francisco Police Department seized copies of Howl and charged the poem's publisher, Lawrence Felinghetti, with obscenity. Tried in summer 1957 and defended by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ferlinghetti was exonerated by a District Court judge. Scholars typically place the Howl trial at the beginning of a cultural and social revolution that flourished in the 1960s or place it amid the personal lives and rebellions of the actors composing the Beat Generation. However, these treatments do not fully consider the ways the prosecution reflected trends in law, shaped debates over juvenile delinquency, and amplified distinctions between legal censorship and public censuring. This paper situates the Howl prosecution amid the regulation of comics, rock music, motion pictures, narcotics in postwar America, to tell a story about California, conservatism, radicalism, and censorship in the Cold War Era.
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