The Supreme Court Vs. Ralph Ginzburg

Working through the papers of Cornell Capa I came across a folder marked with big bold sharpie drawn letters ‘Ralph Ginzburg’. There were not a lot of materials in the folder, mainly newspaper clippings about what was happening to Ginzburg and some notes between Ralph and Cornell.

This new discovery in the Cornell Capa Papers made me think again about the Ginzburg story. I had written about Ralph Ginzburg and his periodical Eros in a post on this blog  ”Passion” in June 2014



The Story. . . Ralph Ginzburg (1929 –2006) was an author, editor, publisher and photo-journalist. In 1962, Ralph Ginzburg after years working for magazine such as Esquire, Harpers, Colliers, LOOK and readers digest began his own publication Eros. Eros was a quarterly hardbound periodical containing stories, articles and photo-essays on love and sex.

“Contributions included a manuscript given by the Bishop of Exeter to his cathedral in 1070, an interview with Bobby Fischer, an introduction by psychoanalyst Theodor Reik, a short story by Ray Bradbury, a photo essay by Marvin Newman, Bert Stern images of Marilyn Monroe, Love in the Subway a photographic essay by Gary Winogrand, Me and the Male Prostitutes of Bombay by Art Kane, The Agonies and the Ecstasies of a Stripper by Nicholas David”

There were only ever four issues of Eros published and by the time of issue no.4 Ginzburg was indicted for distributing obscene literature through the mails under federal obscenity laws.

U.S Attorney General Robert Kennedy indicted Ginzburg for distributing obscene literature through the mails, in violation of federal anti-obscenity laws. The indictment comprised three allegations of obscenity:  First, publication of Volume I, No. 4, of Eros; second, publication of his newsletter Liaison; and third The Houswife’s Handbook on Selective Promiscuity.  It was considered that the mailed advertisements for Eros had exaggerated the erotic content of the book in such a way as to appeal to “prurient interests”. The advertising of Eros apparently emphasized the sexual imagery of the publications. The quarterly included a guarantee of a full refund inserted into each magazine.  On a postcard sized slip there was an advertisement labeled “GUARANTEE” which stated that “Documentary Books, Inc. unconditionally guarantees full refund of the price if the book fails to reach you because of U.S. Post Office censorship interference.”


After a brief trial in June 1962, Ginzburg was convicted in the city of Philadelphia by the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Pensa-Tucky for violating federal obscenity laws. He was sentenced to five years in prison but ultimately served only eight months of that sentence. [God knows what the righteous VP Elect and Grand inquisitor Pence would have made of it all].  After various appeals, the case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1965, and in 1966 Mr. Ginzburg’s conviction was upheld. Despite protests by First Amendment advocates, he served eight months in a federal prison in 1972 after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of his sentence.

It has been suggested that the real issue with Eros was that in Eros No. 4 (Winter, 1962) included ‘an eight-page “photographic tone poem”‘ titled “Black and White in Color”, featuring a nude couple (no genitalia shown), but the girl was white and the man was African-American. Would there have been persecution and prosecution if the photographs had featured a couple of the same colour? This was after all a challenge to the taboo of interracial love. The same publication also included a previously suppressed portfolio of nude photographs of Marilyn Monroe, taken by Bert Stern. (Intriguingly it was U.S Attorney General Robert Kennedy who indicted Ginzburg – can you feel the synergy here?). Clearly nudity wasn’t the issue.


The same periodical also included a delightful letter from the most reverend Allen Ginsberg. Ginzburg also published many of the responses that he received from those outstanding citizens protecting the morality of America. Allen Ginsberg later protested the incarceration of Ginzburg in Washington DC. Somebody had to speak out against the morality madness. Who better than a Ginsberg namesake?

“I have always felt that I might have become a major force in American publishing had it not been for my conviction. Instead, I’m just a curious footnote.”
– Ralph Ginzburg.


Ralph Ginzburg retired at 55 from publishing and pursued a career as a photojournalist specializing in New York scenes and sporting events. He worked mainly for the New York post as a freelance spot-news photographer until his death. His first self-published book was “100 Years of Lynching,” a compilation of newspaper accounts that exposed American racism.

Four Volumes of Eros Magazine in the ICP Library
Eros magazine was produced in 1962, consisting of four volumes:
Eros – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
TR676 .E76 1962

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December 7th is Noam Chomsky Day!

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