537 posts categorized "History"

April 17, 2015

Charles Francis: Best way to remember first White House protests

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In today's Blade, Mattachine Society of Washington President Charles Francis, marking today's 50th anniversary of the first gay picket outside the White House, describes the continuing struggle to unearth the history of anti-gay persecution:

[I]t is amazing after 50 years how much we still do not know about what was actually happening to these pioneers and the untold thousands of other gay men and lesbians whose careers and lives were destroyed by federal persecution. For example, most of the personal papers of the U.S. Civil Service Commission Chairman John W. Macy—the leader of the government’s gay ban at what is now the Office of Personnel Management — today remain unavailable to researchers at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin....

Working with our pro bono legal counsel McDermott, Will & Emery, The Mattachine Society of Washington has learned that John Macy’s personal papers are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. He donated them to the National Archives prior to the passage of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 that governs the official records of presidents created or received after 1981. In this way, John Macy to this day has been able to tie up his personal papers with restrictions supposedly to protect the privacy of individuals....

These boxes include the 1965/1966 period when Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Paul Kuntzler, Lilli Vincenz, Kay Lahusen, Jack Nichols and others stood outside the White House fence demanding a meeting. Working with the National Archives, whose archivists understand the importance of the sealed boxes of gay and lesbian history, let’s open up the Macy papers as the best way to honor the men and women who took their case to the American people on a sidewalk with pickets, April 17, 1965. Frank would love it.

Also in today's Blade on the 50th anniversary of the first gay WH protests:

Activists to mark 50th anniversary of first gay rights protests

April 15, 2015

Larry Kramer's latest: 'debasing and vile'

Mattachine Society of Washington President Charles Francis writes of this NYT book review:

The deification of Larry Kramer continues. His latest novel is no history: it is in fact a debasing and vile telling of American history through an obsession of his: the word "shit" beginning in the "penis of America", Florida, with Florida monkeys and the "anus of America", the Everglades. I am not making this up. This is not Annette Gordon-Reed uncovering with meticulous research the "Hemingses of Monticello". Kramer says, "tough shit" in the novel if you ask questions or want more.

Yes. Here is my Nov. 2011 column on Kramer.

April 03, 2015

Sarah Brady dies at 73

One evening thirty years ago, as I approached La Fonda Restaurant at 17th and R Streets NW (which has been gone for twenty years now), a friend and I saw White House press secretary Jim Brady being helped down the few steps into the restaurant and back into his wheelchair by his wife Sarah and a friend. Mrs. Brady urged us to go ahead of them. We said we were in no hurry, and to take their time. I remember the exact day in 1981 when Jim was gravely injured by a bullet from John Hinckley meant for President Reagan, because it was my 25th birthday. The Bradys received bipartisan respect from the people of Washington. No public servant should have to face gunfire. And the Bradys were nice people.

The 1993 Brady Act required background checks on firearm purchasers. In later years, politics shifted to the point where even background checks were blocked. America's Wild West infatuation with guns has only gotten worse. It is a sad thing to contemplate as we mark Sara Brady's passing. Her husband died eight months ago. May they both rest in peace.

March 26, 2015

Go to a revolution and cure your writer's block

Salman Rushdie delightfully recounts how he cured his writer's block in 1986 by going to a revolution. The punchline is great even though you can see it coming a mile off.

March 24, 2015

Ghosts in the Courtroom

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(Frank Kameny; Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

My column this week examines the Mattachine Society of Washington's amicus brief in the marriage cases before SCOTUS--featuring newly unearthed original documents that show decades of anti-gay animus in the federal government--animus dismissed in 2013 by Chief Justice Roberts in his dissent in Windsor as "snippets of legislative history."

Cropping up again and again is Frank Kameny, original MSW founder, whose fearlessness, brilliance, and doggedness was a continued thorn in the side of those persecuting us. Bravo to Charles Francis and Pate Felts for their sleuthing, and to McDermott Will & Emery as counsel of record.

Here is the lede:

The late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny's exhortations ring in my ears as I anticipate arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages.

Read the whole thing here.

March 23, 2015

Starbucks ends #RaceTogether initiative

Hardly shocking news, given the mockery Starbucks brought upon itself with this ill-thought-out initiative.

One further thought: The racial oppression in the history of the coffee trade is hardly redeemed by Starbucks hiring lots of black baristas.

March 18, 2015

The sad decline of Walter Fauntroy

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(Walter Fauntroy testifies against marriage equality in 2009; photo by Metro Weekly)

WUSA9 News reports:

A bench warrant is on file in Prince George's County for D.C. icon Walter Fauntroy. The pastor and former civil rights leader is believed to be in Africa. His passport has been revoked by the U.S. State Department.

Fauntroy's disappearance has been discussed quietly around town since he apparently came close to being killed around the time of Qadafi's fall in 2011. Prior to that, I heard him give a number of delusional, self-aggrandizing speeches. He was part of the ineffectual group of ministers that opposed marriage equality in DC, and like others in that group appears to be an overcompensating closet case.

Twelve years ago I spoke to Fauntroy in the fellowship hall at Israel Baptist Church, and tried respectfully to convince him that the backers of the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment with whom he allied himself were the same people Dr. King criticized in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and that he was dishonoring his old associate Bayard Rustin in the process. I might as well have chatted up the food on the buffet table.

For years Fauntroy was a fixture at ineffectual rallies for DC Statehood. Because of his background in the civil rights movement, few criticized him publicly. His homophobia was as out of date as his boasting of his closeness to Qadafi. He lived in the past for a long time, and had many enablers. Now his mental state is in question. He has become a sad footnote in the post-Benjamin Jealous era of cooperation between the civil rights and LGBT rights movements, in which many ministers are on the side of equality, as Dr. King's widow was.

March 11, 2015

Who Tells the History

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(Washington Blade editorial cartoon by Ranslem)

My Blade column this week examines the state of justice in America fifty years after Selma. Here is an excerpt:

The Edmund Pettus Bridge gleamed in the afternoon light when President Obama spoke there on March 7 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Yet Transportation for America includes it on a map of America's 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. Completed in 1940, it is named for a former U.S. Senator who was a Confederate general and a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

The back side of a billboard welcoming Obama featured one from admirers of Klan founder and Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. Beneath an equestrian portrait of Forrest was the slogan, "Keep the skeer on 'em." Thus as we honor nonviolent resistance, others wax nostalgic about lynching.

Obama did not mention the Forrest billboard but did mention last week's Justice Department report on the Ferguson Police Department. He said that while the report shows that the fight for justice is not finished, America has made a lot of progress. He cited advances not only by African Americans but also by women and gay people. "To deny ... this hard-won progress ... would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better."

Obama tacitly rebuked the right wing's patriotic posturing by celebrating the reforming impulse: "It's the idea held by generations of citizens who believed ... that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo."

Read the whole thing here.

March 08, 2015

Saluting a brave and decent man

Selma director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo with Rep. John Lewis at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Filming on the bridge

Just as David Lean had to film Lawrence of Arabia in the desert, Ava DuVernay had to film her Blood Sunday scene on the real bridge.

March 07, 2015

"We are the gay Americans..."

Obama at the bridge

President Obama spoke today at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. A very fine moment.

A Call from Selma

This latest entry in NYT's "Op-Doc" series is by Andrew Beck Grace and features Rev. Clark Olsen remembering the day in Selma, Alabama fifty years ago when his colleague Rev. James Reeb was murdered for supporting voting rights. He notes with great emotion that at the time, the murder of young black activist Jimmie Lee Jackson got very little attention, while the murder of a white minister was so shocking that it helped President Johnson pass the Voting Rights Act.

Fifty years later, DOJ's Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department shows that we have still not overcome.

February 24, 2015

'Glory' sales surge after Oscar win

Billboard reports:

Common and John Legend's "Glory" is basking in the glow of its Academy Award win for best original song on Feb. 22, and is on course for big sales gains in the wake of the Oscars.

A small comfort for a film unjustly snubbed.

February 23, 2015

D.C. drag community mourns Mame Dennis

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(Mame Dennis and Donn Culver at Pier 9. Photo by Rob Moore/Discomusic.com)

One of the longtime mainstays of Washington's drag community has died. Rest in peace.

February 19, 2015

Oklahoma Lawmakers Vote Overwhelmingly To Ban Advanced Placement U.S. History

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(Students protest proposed changes to U.S. history curriculum in Colorado. AP photo)

Think Progress reports:

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

The reason I don't advocate nuking Oklahoma for this is that history teaches us that it would be a terrible idea.

February 12, 2015

Getting Off Our High Horse

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My latest column, now online at the Washington Blade, looks at the controversy over President Obama's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Here's an excerpt:

At its best, faith challenges us to reflect on how far our actions have strayed from the standards we profess. The Christian Right, by contrast, uses faith as a weapon against its political opponents. Its standard bearers cannot acknowledge crimes even nine centuries in the past. So forget the anti-Semitic Rhineland Massacres of 1096; the sack of Constantinople in 1204; the destruction of ancient libraries and art treasures; the hundreds of thousands who died from slaughter, famine, and disease before the Crusaders even reached the Holy Land. Do not mention the estimated 1.7 million deaths from the Crusades, or that the savagery was launched by Pope Urban II in 1095.

The denial is not only about the Middle Ages. Millions were caught up in the Middle Passage that brought slaves to the western hemisphere, and black men in America were being burned alive in public lynching festivals well into the twentieth century. People cut off parts of the victims for souvenirs. Innumerable photos of these horrors are a few clicks away.

We can talk about this. At bottom, that is the president's message. He does our country a service by raising it, though he knows his opponents are waiting to pounce on whatever he says. He can speak less guardedly with his last race and last midterm election behind him.

Read the whole thing.

February 10, 2015

American sins: history of lynchings in the South

February 06, 2015

Oh, the mockery!

Above, Mister Smith Media mocks NBC News anchor Brian Williams for his enhanced memories of being under fire in a war zone. The mockery continues on Twitter with hashtag #BrianWilliamsMisremembers. Here is some coverage:

President Obama brilliantly trolls the National Prayer Breakfast

President Obama makes an admirable statement on the misuse of religion, informed by history and not just recent events. And the haters go crazy. Bravo, Mr. President.

Here are a few news items and comments:

February 01, 2015

Cumberbatch's Alan Turing gay-rights campaign snubbed by Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

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The Independent reports:

Benedict Cumberbatch's plea for Prince William and Kate Middleton to support a gay-rights campaign has been rejected.

Cumberbatch played pioneering World War 2 codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Turing was prosecuted for being gay, but he was given a posthumous pardon in 2013.

The actor has signed an open letter calling for some 49,000 other men similarly convicted under the old law to have the same treatment as Turing. The petition has already been signed by almost 90,000 supporters.

On the positive side, the snub has gotten attention for Cumberbatch's effort. Good on him.

Langston Hughes gets a Google Doodle

Happy birthday, Langston Hughes.

(Hat tip: Tom Sherwood)

January 28, 2015

Holocausts and memory

January 20, 2015

D'Souza compares himself to MLK; hilarity ensues

The above tweet, and the hashtag #aninterestingparallel, is part of the mockery in response to conservative provocateur Dinesh D'Souza's comparison of himself to Dr. King as a way of bashing President Obama. Raw Story reports.

January 19, 2015

BeBe Winans - I have a dream

A lovely song inspired by Dr. King's most famous speech.

(Hat tip: Mark Thompson)

January 16, 2015

The Dream of Reconciliation

The New Yorker writes:

Barry Blitt drew next week’s cover, inspired by the photographs of the Selma-to-Montgomery march that are everywhere again. “It struck me that King’s vision was both the empowerment of African-Americans, the insistence on civil rights, but also the reconciliation of people who seemed so hard to reconcile,” he said. “In New York and elsewhere, the tension between the police and the policed is at the center of things. Like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, Martin Luther King was taken way too early. It is hard to believe things would have got as bad as they are if he was still around today.”

Beautiful.

January 02, 2015

Mario Cuomo dies at 82

Three-time New York governor Mario Cuomo died yesterday at age 82, hours after his son Andrew was inaugurated to another term as governor. Adam Nagourney has a fine obit at NYT. Above is his 1984 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

May he rest in peace.

December 27, 2014

Joe Califano whitesplains it all for you

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(Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto/LBJ Library)

Joseph Califano, who served as President Johnson's top domestic affairs assistant, slams the new Selma movie in WaPo. He actually claims that "Selma was LBJ’s idea."

Lauren Victoria Burke responds at Crew of 42:

What? In an interesting column in the Washington Post, former LBJ aid Joe Califano claims that it was LBJ who came up with the Selma march. What in the world Califano is talking about is anyone’s guess. Below is the Selma episode of Eyes on the Prize.

December 25, 2014

The Queen's Christmas speech focuses on reconciliation

I do not have a fixation on the British royal family as do some Americans I know. But I have to give Her Majesty credit for delivering a very fine speech this Christmas.

December 22, 2014

Study: 'White' Southerners have more African ancestry than they know

Vox.com reports:

In a new study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers used the ancestry data compiled by the commercial genetic testing company 23and Me to measure the percentage of African ancestry of people who self-identified as white. It turns out that self-identified white people who live in the South have the highest concentrations of African DNA.

I'm shocked, shocked to find there's been miscegenation going on up in here.

December 18, 2014

14-year-old exonerated, 70 years too late

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George Stinney, wrongly convicted and executed in 1944 at age 14 in South Carolina, was exonerated Wednesday by circuit court Judge Carmen Mullen. When he went to the electric chair, he was so small he had to sit on a phone book for the execution.

We do not have the knowledge of gods. There are too many people with motives to lie, to make false accusations, to seek out a scapegoat, to set an example. We should abolish the death penalty if only for this reason. It is good for Stinney's name to be cleared at long last; but his life was stolen. The sadness of this is beyond adequate expression.

December 06, 2014

Marion Barry's history on LGBT rights


(Marion Barry speaks in favor of Deoni Jones Act, June 26, 2013)

A memorial service for former Mayor Marion Barry was held on Saturday at the D.C. Convention Center, in which he was eulogized by a long list of public officials, entrepreneurs, and community activists. Loose Lips reports.

I was interviewed by Martin Austermuhle for a piece that aired on WAMU radio on Friday. Our friend Andy Bowen, who is now executive director of Garden State Equality, wrote a lovely remembrance of Barry for DCist on Thursday.

Regarding the bitterness that some in our community feel over Barry's 2009 vote against marriage equality: One thing people might keep in mind is that while Marion is gone, all of his friends and supporters aren't. Burning bridges by indulging a bitter comment accomplishes nothing. Plus, I hate being a sore winner. We won marriage equality strongly and overwhelmingly, and we did it with a broad-based coalition and with smart and respectful messaging. I confronted Marion in 2009 over his participation in an anti-gay rally at Freedom Plaza as he was leaving that rally, and I challenged him on his vote against marriage equality; but I did it in a civil manner. As a result, I had five more years of a cordial relationship with him, while he continued serving as one of 13 DC Council members. Being nasty would not have helped our cause. Marion was always nice to me, and it cost me nothing to reciprocate. Did I appreciate it when he told me he didn't know any gay couples in Ward 8? Of course not. I was truly baffled by his saying that to me (in the hallway outside the Council Chambers), because there were no reporters or news cameras near us for him to play to. But if I cut off everyone I know who said baffling or obnoxious things, well, I'd have a much lonelier life. Marion was not perfect, but he was a longtime ally (including supporting our successful effort in 1979 to prohibit ballot measures that infringed on rights protected by the DC Human Rights Act). So I gave him credit as well as criticism, and did not break off a productive relationship. May he rest in peace.

November 27, 2014

Pat Robertson: gays are destroying everything the Pilgrims worked for

As they say on the old Warner Bros cartoons, aaaah, shadaaaap!

2014 Medal of Freedom ceremony

This year's honorees include James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, the civil rights workers who were murdered fifty years ago during Mississippi Freedom Summer. Family members accepted for them.

Huckabee defiles Holocaust tour

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, not content with comparing abortion to the Holocaust, declares that gay marriage destroys the foundation of civilization.

November 25, 2014

Remembering Marion Barry

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(Still from The Nine Lives of Marion Barry)

I have known Marion Barry since the early 1980s, and he was always courteous to me, even twenty years ago on election day when he arrived at Precinct 15 and I was standing outside wearing a Carol Schwartz campaign shirt. Indeed, he came right for me, all smiles. That was always one of his more charming qualities.

After his death early Sunday at age 78, I received requests for comment from several journalists. I was under the weather all day and did not send them my thoughts until Monday morning. Since I missed the news cycle, here are my comments.

In many ways Marion Barry resembled Bill Clinton: smart, politically astute, charming, and with a phenomenal memory. He didn’t just remember people’s names, he remembered their pets and what ailed them. People who disliked him used to dismiss his talents, which was a big mistake. He was the smartest politician in hometown D.C.

In his early years as mayor, before his addictions got the better of him, he appointed more gay officials than any mayor in the country. I remember him announcing the birth of his son Christopher from the stage at Gay Pride. He was an ally of the LGBT community throughout his mayoral years.

I was greatly disappointed when he opposed marriage equality, and said “Shame on you” to him after he led a chant (3:30 on the clip) at an anti-gay rally in Freedom Plaza in the spring of 2009. He replied, “I supported you on everything else.” That did not mollify me, but it was noteworthy that he and the only other “no” vote on marriage, Ward 7 councilmember Yvette Alexander, touted their pro-gay credentials from the dais rather than launching into anti-gay screeds. They were voting with their constituents; but they still, implausible as it seemed, were eager not to be thought anti-gay. That was a tribute to how far the LGBT community had come.

People are calling this the end of an era, but the Barry era really ended 16 years ago when Anthony Williams was elected mayor. After that, Marion was still a force in Ward 8, but not citywide. In recent years he could barely walk, but his mind was still sharp. I was still pleasant with him despite the harm he did to the city, because it cost me nothing and he was still one of our 13 councilmembers. He was a charmer to the end (when he wasn’t trash talking), and enjoyed reminiscing about past battles when he was on our side. It was clear that he would be re-elected in Ward 8 as long as he lived; now the question is when his constituents, so devoted to him, will move on.

November 23, 2014

Marion Barry dies at 78

The Mayor for Life is dead. May he rest in peace.

November 22, 2014

Regarding healthcare before Obamacare

November 19, 2014

A tree for Emmett Till at the U.S. Capitol

Janet Langhart Cohen was on Joe Madison's show on SiriusXM's Urban View 126 yesterday to talk about the planting of a tree on Capitol Hill commemorating Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 and whose murderers were let off by an all-white jury. We know Emmett's name, as we do not know the names of the thousands of others who met similar fates, because his mother Mamie had the courage to order an open casket and allow Jet Magazine to photograph her son's horrifically mutilated face. Her words, "I want them to see what they did to my son," are one of the most powerful statements ever made by an American.

Jet founder John Johnson's unhesitating decision to print the photo and story of Till's murder helped galvanize African Americans for the civil rights struggle; the Montgomery Bus Boycott began later the same year. Thanks to Mrs. Cohen for her efforts to get a living memorial for Till, and to Joe Madison for sharing the video. As Madison notes, the sycamore's location across from the Russell Senate Office Building is particularly apt, given Richard Russell's unreconstructed racism and ferocious opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.