An artist in Hermosa Beach, California, has been pressured by Hermosa Beach Mural Project organizers to remove poet Allen Ginsberg from a new public mural. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) strongly condemns this decision to erase the image of one of America’s most influential and iconic poets.

Muralist Timothy Smith set out to include images of notable writers, singers and other artists who brought the counterculture movement to Hermosa Beach, including Ginsberg, Miles Davis and Linda Ronstadt. Hermosa Beach Mural Project organizers received an unknown number of complaints about the inclusion of Ginsberg based on his public support in his later life of NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Association.

Counterculture figures like Ginsberg held views at variance with mainstream opinion on many topics – this is the essence of the movement. Many of those views – around gay rights, peace activism, spirituality – have moved into the mainstream today, others have not. Yet, the historical stature of Ginsberg in American culture is well established. Ginsberg was a staunch free speech advocate and he considered support for NAMBLA a free speech issue. Ginsberg scholars agree that no evidence has been found of Ginsberg engaging in criminal behavior. Ginsberg remains widely admired for his work as a poet, human rights activist and visionary.

As a private non-profit, the Hermosa Beach Mural Project is not bound by First Amendment law. However, as an arts organization, NCAC hopes that they will reverse this decision and reaffirm their support of free expression.

NCAC urges the Mural Project to consider that this act of erasure would go against the very spirit of the counterculture, which repeatedly challenged majority opinion and, as a result, often combated censorship.

The free speech battles Ginsberg won benefit all of us today. Erasing him from the mural will put Hermosa Beach on the side of the reactionary forces of censorship that Ginsberg and others fought all their lives.


Image via Carlo Magnani