Southern History and Civil Rights in the News 2 July 2021

Scout Johnson's picture

2 July 2021

 

This Week’s History:

 

We celebrated the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising this week, the event which marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement, which today encompasses the GLBTQ+ community. Preceding decades saw movement in fits and starts with new organizations such as the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) and the Mattachine Society, as well as some efforts to de-pathologize homosexuality within medicine and mental health, but it wasn’t until after the events of June 1969 that a full-scale nationwide effort was attempted.

 

The events began in the early morning of 28 June 1969 after yet another police raid. These raids on gay bars were commonplace throughout the 1950s and 1960s were considered as another front in the Cold War. As they did with many African American civil rights groups, authorities feared that homosexuality was tied to communism, and the Lavender Scare became part of the Second Red Scare. These raids were generally carried out without fanfare or resistance, but there were a few precedents: at Cooper Do-Nuts in LA in 1959 and Compton’s Cafeteria of San Francisco in 1966. Those events were initiated as protests against police violence against the gay and transgender community, respectively. At the Stonewall Inn, the situation quickly turned intense and spilled into the streets where the Stonewall’s patrons were joined by those from other Greenwich Village gay bars as well as local street people. There are conflicting accounts of the flash point, but two transgender women of color, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson are generally considered to be the “Mothers of the Movement.” The violence went for several hours overnight and continued for several nights thereafter.

 

One of the results was a new organization, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the first such organization to include the word “Gay.” The GLF was a new kind of organization that wanted to focus more on direct action, rather than the quiet assimilation promoted by the Mattachines and DOB. The GLF and its offshoot, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), organized marches in the neighborhood protesting police violence against the gay community, but the movement really took off in 1970 with the first anniversary of the riots marked by the “Christopher Street Liberation Day” march in New York and Gay Pride marches in LA and Chicago, the very first such marches in US history. The following year saw the marches expand across the US as well as internationally, and they are still held to this day. In addition to the marches, there was an explosion in gay rights groups in the country, as well as across Western Europe, Canada, and Australia.

 

The site of the Stonewall Inn has been commemorated, first on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, then as a National Historic Landmark the following year. New York City made the bar a city landmark in 2015 and it was named as the Stonewall National Monument in 2016, with the National Parks Service taking over management of the site which covers the bar, several blocks of Christopher Street on which it is located, as well as Christopher Park, where many of the street people who had taken part in the riots slept. The movement has made great gains in the ensuing fifty-two years, however, as a sign of how much has yet to be accomplished, one week ago today President Biden signed legislation designating the National Pulse Memorial, honoring the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in which forty-nine people were murdered in Orlando, FL in June of 2016—the deadliest attack on GLBTQ+ in American history.

 

References and Further Reading:

Stonewall National Monument,” National Parks Service

A Queer History of the United States, Michael Bronski

Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBT Rights Uprising that Changed America, Martin Duberman, Penguin Books, 2019 (rev)

The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History, Marc Stein, NYU Press, 2019

 

News Links:

Southern History

Explaining the Broken Promises of ‘Freedom Dues,’” KCRW—Santa Monica College

Understanding the South through the Eyes of the World,” reckon

 

Civil Rights

“‘Pride is Back at the White House’: Biden Pushes for LGBTQ Civil Rights Act,” Politico

Bayard Rustin: Trailblazer for Civil Rights,” California News Times

Case Files on 1964 Civil Rights Worker Killings Made Public,” American Press (Lake Charles, LA)

Enduring Trauma: Indigenous Boarding Schools Will Be Investigated, Interior Secretary Haaland Announces,” Daily Yonder

Liquor Laws Once Targeted Gay Bars. Now, One State is Apologizing.” The New York Times

 

Until next week, take care,

 

Michele “Scout” Johnson

Editor, H-South

 

This series of posts to H-South, “Southern History and Civil Rights in the News,” aims to generate and track informed public discussions of southern history and civil rights. To recommend a reading, please email Dr. Michele Johnson at mrj028@uark.edu