Instigating the Howl Trial – March 25, 1957

Sixty years ago today [Sixty-seven years ago, 2024], the US Customs, in the person of Collector of Customs, Chester MacPhee, confiscated five-hundred-and-twenty copies of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”  – a pivotal moment  

From Bill Morgan‘s  Howl on TrialThe Battle for Free Expression:

“The Collector of Customs, Chester MacPhee, confiscated 520 copies [of Howl ] because, as he said, “The words and the sense of the writing is obscene…you wouldn’t want your children to come across it.”   U.S. Customs Law required a Federal Judge, upon application of the U.S. Attorney,  to grant permission to destroy the books. But, as City Lights publisher, (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti wisely had sought the assistance of the ACLU prior to sending Howl to the printer in England, and had gotten its assurance of support in defending the book if it was seized, the ACLU notified MacPhee that it was prepared to defend Howl.  The U.S.  Attorney then decided not to proceed and MacPhee had to release the books,”

“Then (a short time later, June 3), the San Francisco police arrested Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao, who worked at City Lights, for selling Howl.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao, 1957, at the Howl  trial

resulting in the infamous trial – [on October 3, California State Superior Court Judge Clayton Hall correctly ruled in favor of the defendants, declaring that the poem was indeed of “redeeming social importance”]

“And the rest’s history..”

Looking back at the Howl trial and looking ahead. Saluting freedom of speech and the preservation of civil liberties.


  1. I discovered Howl when I was 25. I devoured it. It left an indelible impression on me. I revisit it every few years. Now I’m a teacher in my 50s, and I’ve been searching for a special graduation gift for a student who is a talented Poet. Howl it is!

  2. Interesting looking for solid information to use to fight against influences that I do not believe in. Need to protect the freedom of speech.

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