Though he was born in New York City, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a poet, painter, and social activist, had the greatest impact in and on the city of San Francisco. Born in 1919, Ferlinghetti was of the age to serve his country in World War II, finishing his bachelor’s degree in journalism before doing so, and completing his master’s degree in English literature and doctoral degree in comparative literature afterwards. Shortly after completing the latter of these, Ferlinghetti relocated to San Francisco, learning quickly about the principles of philosophical anarchism and applying them to totalitarianism and war. He believed that artists and poets needed to use their gifts to challenge the political climate of the nation for constant improvement; he reinforces this in the populist stylings of his own writing whereby he ensures that art is accessible to everyone.
In the 1950s, Ferlinghetti became embroiled in a controversial case in the fight for free speech: his independent publishing business, City Lights Bookstore, published and sold Howl by Alan Ginsberg, a book that was deemed highly questionable due to its depictions of homosexuality and drug use. Ferlinghetti believed in the value of the book, and in the right of the people to choose what they read; he made the sacrifice to be arrested for its publication, but was ultimately vindicated. Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that any book with even a small bit of social importance had the protections of the First Amendment, and that Ferlinghetti was not in violation of any laws in publishing and selling Howl. Ferlinghetti would also work in the coming decades in anti-Vietnam War protests via a refusal to pay taxes, as head of a movement to remove part of the Central Freeway and replace it with a boulevard, and the fight to save the historic Gold Dust Lounge in Union Square.