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Rare Books Virtual Lecture — Radical!

We prefer crude vigor to polished banality.”
from Anvil, Jack Conroy, 1933

In recognition of Banned Books Week, Rare Books invites you to view its most recent virtual lecture, “Radical!” – an accompaniment to our latest digital exhibition.

from Songs of the Workers; On the Road, In the Jungles, and In the Shops, 1914

What does it mean to be radical? Well, it depends on who you ask. In order to define the term “radical” we can look at its Latin derivation, radix, meaning “root;” we can follow its origins to the radical reforms which developed in Europe during the 18th and 19th century; or, we can debate whether one political party is more radical than the other. But when it comes down to it, to be “radical” is to fight against the status quo, and the only way to do that is to fundamentally change whatever system is in place, to get to the “root” of the problems.

from Max Eastman’s Address to the Jury in the Second Masses Trial, Max Eastman, 1918

The radical voices of the twentieth century were a convergence of writers, activists, and artists closely linked to the Labor and Socialist movements that were forming within the United States and all over the globe. These radical voices were met with unparalleled resistance from federal, state and local governments in the United States. People were imprisoned on the basis of legislative acts passed by Congress – such as the Espionage Act and the Sedition Acts, the Smith Act, and the McCarran Act — all of which many felt were attempts to suppress the First Amendment.

from Stool Pigeon, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 1949

The Espionage Act of 1917 was passed on June 15, 1917 shortly after the United States entered into World War I. The federal law made it a crime to interfere, in any way, with the war effort, including disrupting military recruitment or aiding other nations at war with the U.S. However, the law had unexpected consequences with regards to the First Amendment, and many in opposition to the Espionage Act saw it as a government attempt to punish what was deemed to be unpopular speech. The Act also gave the Postmaster General authority to confiscate or refuse mail publications that he deemed to be in violation of the prohibitions.

from Lift Every Voice!, Irwin Silber, 1964

Less than a year later, the law was extended and a set of amendments, generally called the Sedition Act of 1918, called for greater punishments and wider prohibitions. The Sedition Act prohibited many forms of speech including, “any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States… or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy.”

from Street Wall Journal, Committee to Defend the Panther 21, 1970

Although unassuming in form, these materials created a cultural impact and developed intricate networks which continue to highlight issues of civil rights, censorship, and free speech today. Radical! tells the story of print (counter) culture and government attempts to mute voices it believed were too, well, radical.

from The Electric Newspapers, 1968

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