1969 – Allen Ginsberg Wins His Case in Miami

A little bit of history, brought to us, courtesy of the Lyn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Picture Archives. 

In 1969, at a reading with his father, Louis Ginsberg, in Miami’s Marine Stadium, Allen’s microphone was egregiously and unceremonially cut-off. Manny Costa, the stadium manager (along with Paul Andrews, assistant city manager) interrupted and summarily curtailed the reading, arbitrarily declaring it to be “obscene”. Allen took the incident to court, arguing that the action violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The Judge, Judge Carl Clyde Atkins, ruled unequivocally in his favor:

“While Costa’s actions may have been taken with the best of motives, they were clearly legally impermissible. Freedom of expression is a sacred constitutional right which the highest court in the land has constantly protected…Costa’s action in restraining the remainder of Ginsberg’s poetry reading was based on a determination which fell far short of the procedures required…It is true that obscenity is not entitled to the protection of the First Amendment but the fact of obscenity must be determined by proper judicial authority at an adversary hearing. Parenthetically, after a review of a tape recording of the performance which was in substantial conformity with the published poetry that Ginsberg was reading from, I do not find it obscene within the constitutional standards laid down by the Supreme Court…”

Tobias Simon [shown on film] [representing Allen Ginsberg]: Many persons have contacted me offering money and support in the Ginsberg affair. Not a single city official, or state, or county law agency has expressed any concern in redressing the injuries suffered by the principals in this matter. I have therefore today written to the new United States District Attorney, Mr (Robert W) Rust, demanding a federal grand jury investigation, looking to federal indictments and ultimate punishments for those responsible for the outrages perpetrated in this matter.
Now we were quite pleased, of course, with the decision of Judge Atkins permitting the resumption of the poetry reading of Allen Ginsberg and his father Louis Ginsberg. But there is another matter that I wanted to bring to your attention today. We believe that law amd order principles should be even-handedly applied, regardless of color or status. It is equally criminal to assault a man’s rights as it is to assault his person. Officials of the city of Miami have deprived some of the citizens of their rights, thereby diminishing liberty for all of us.

[next, approximately one minute in, and for approximately forty seconds, silent footage of Allen, then….]

AG: The moment they turned off the microphones, I was pronouncing.. comparing the police bureaucracy in Prague and in Miami in its repressiveness  [reading the poem “Kral Majales“]

Interviewer: Did you use profanity in that..

AG: Not in that description, no. I had used four-letter words as part of the poetry that was read fifteen or twenty minutes earlier.. The mic was turned off on a poem exorcising the Pentagon, so I’ll begin with that poem.

Interviewer: And read it in its entirety

AG: Read it in its entirety and then just go on through.. I’m sure the stuff I’ll read is.. if anybody has a dirty mind and is looking for dirtiness, anything I read tonight will be just as dirty in their eyes as what I read last time but actually it’s all not dirty really, it’s just, like “in the eyes of the beholder”. In other words, the people who turned off the microphone, it seems to me, have a kind of sex-fiend-ishness of their own. I mean, they’re preoccupied with dirty words, and they’re calling words dirty, so I guess it’s their..their dirtiness that’s concerned here, trying to lay it out on me. I’m just writing what goes through my mind and I’m sure what goes through my mind is not any different than what goes through your mind.

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