News & Politics

Allen Ginsberg, Artists March for Freedom

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April 30, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 28

Drizzle Does Not Dim Ardor of Arts Marchers

By Michael Smith

Braving a mean drizzle and the competition of a World’s Fair opening, more than 200 practitioners and admirers of the various arts gathered at dusk last Wednesday and marched from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center to protest governmental limitations on freedom of the arts. The roof of umbrellas as the crowd convened on the steps at 41st Street and Sixth Avenue lent the occasion a funeral aspect, and the keynote symbol was a large black coffin lettered: “Will Freedom Be Buried?”

As the procession got into motion, however, the mood brightened. Police had forbidden the coffin on the grounds that it turned the march into a parade, which requires more formal permission, and umbrellas were furled as the rain subsided. Marchers strung out in a double file reaching along 42nd Street all the way from Sixth Avenue to Broadway. March leaders Julian Beck and Diane di Prima, organizers of the sponsoring Committee for Freedom of the Arts, led the way up Broadway through Times Square, past Columbus Circle, and into the plaza between Philharmonic Hall and the newly completed New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center. Candles were distributed and lit as darkness fell, and the mood was joyful.

The demonstration’s official hand-out detailed a long list of “immediate grievances”: obscenity charges against the films “Flaming Creatures” and “Un Chant d’Amour” and against Lenny Bruce, licensing summonses against various films and theatres, License Department actions against several off-Broadway theatres and coffee houses, Federal seizure of the Living Theatre, housing problems of the Artist-Tenants Association, and the banning of books including “Fanny Hill” and “Tropic of Cancer.”

In the words of the manifesto: “HELP! the freedom of the artist is being violated. When the freedom of the artist is jeopardized, Watch Out! It is a sign of a government that fears the free expression of its people.”

The mood of free expression was so rampant on Wednesday that half a dozen different leaflets were distributed at large, to the apparent confusion of many passers-by…Beck and his wife, Judith Malina, wore placards headed “F–k” and “C–t” and bearing Partridge’s definitions of those classic four-letter words.

…Poet Allen Ginsberg, who had led the successful court fight to legalize poetry readings at the Metro Cafe, read the lis of grievances aloud and recited a poem for the occasion.

…Both Beck and Diane di Prima subsequently agreed that the demonstration had not been especially communicative and that most of the public had not understood its purpose. (A radio news broadcast later that night described the marchers as “artists and models” protesting “a housing development.”) But the leaders were satisfied
anyway…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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