The Literary Censorship Files of the E. Sculley Bradley papers

Professor Back 'Lonigan' Books

Professor Sculley Bradley was the star witness for several important literary censorship trials in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

The E. Sculley Bradley papers are now processed and available for research. Sculley Bradley was a University of Pennsylvania English professor from 1926-1967 and vice provost of undergraduate education from 1956-1963. His papers include his personal and professional correspondence, 1923-1962, material from several literary censorship cases he testified for, corrected drafts of his manuscript for the Variorum edition of Leaves of Grass, ephemera and graphics associated with Walt Whitman, and a small amount of materials on other authors. His censorship files are some of the more interesting materials in the collection.

Material for Testimony

Bradley’s preparation was meticulous as shown by the first page of a nine page outline for one book defended in Youngstown, Ohio in 1953.

From 1948 through 1966 Sculley Bradley was involved in a series of literary censorship trials, acting as a witness on the side of the authors, publishers, and/or booksellers. His first case involved the seizure of over 2,000 books confiscated from 50 different bookstores, department stores, and newsstands in Philadelphia, PA in 1948. Among the books seized were James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan and A World I Never Made; Sanctuary and The Wild Palms by William Faulkner; God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell; Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr.; and Harold Robbins’ Never Love a Stranger. The book raids were undertaken by the Philadelphia police vice squad upon complaints of “ministers, school authorities, and others.”

Expense Account, Sculley Bradley

Bradley’s record keeping of expenses associated with his testimony was also meticulous!

Bradley was recruited to serve as an expert witness in this case and in several subsequent ones. In the files for these censorship cases, Bradley has collected correspondence concerning his testimony, newspaper and magazine clippings, receipts for his consultative charges, and in some cases copies of legal briefs. In preparation for giving his testimony, Bradley worked diligently. If he did not already have a copy of the book in question, the publishers would send him one. He read it (usually not for the first time) and wrote up detailed notes on the characters, plot, purpose, and context of each book so that he would be prepared to discuss it, and defend it, in court.

Direct Examination of Dr. Sculley Bradley

Testimony of Bradley defending Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in a Philadelphia courtroom in 1962.

The Philadelphia seizures actually led to more than one courtroom. A Pennsylvania State suit against five of the booksellers went to the Court of Quarter Sessions, Philadelphia, while a Federal case in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was lodged by publisher Vanguard Press and author James T. Farrell against the Philadelphia police. Sculley Bradley testified in both trials. It isn’t completely clear how the Federal case turned out, but the State case was a victory for the booksellers. Judge Curtis Bok found that the books were not obscene and dismissed the charges against the booksellers. He wrote a thorough opinion on the matter, finalizing with “I hold that the books before me are not sexually impure and pornographic, and are therefore not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent, or disgusting.” Judge Bok’s opinion was such a hit with booksellers, that the publisher Knopf had it typeset on fine paper in a clothbound limited edition of 500 copies printed by Grabhorn Press in San Francisco!

Commonwealth v. Gordon, et al.

Judge Curtis Bok’s decision striking the Pennsylvania statute under which five booksellers were charged with peddling obscene material, 1948.

In addition to the Philadelphia cases, other censorship cases arose in Fall River, MA (focusing on the book Duke, by Hal Ellison), Detroit, MI (The Devil Rides Out, by John H. Griffin), Youngstown, OH (Down All Your Streets, by Leonard Bishop), and additional cases brought in Philadelphia, PA as well as several other cities (for The Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller). Bradley also signed on to an amicus curiae brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in defense of Ralph Ginzburg, who published the erotic journal Eros and other works which were confiscated in the mail in 1962. Some of the cases Bradley was involved in made their way to the United States Supreme Court.

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