562 posts categorized "History"

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.

November 15, 2014

The Christmas Truce 1914

This year's Christmas ad by Sainsbury's, the British supermarket and convenience store chain founded in 1869, recreates the legendary Christmas Truce that occurred on the Western Front one hundred years ago during World War I. After the jump are videos about the making of the advert in partnership with the Royal British Legion, and the story behind it.

The video's moving reminder that humanity can emerge under the worst circumstances also reminds us of the pointlessness of war. It was rising anti-German sentiment during WWI, in 1917, that caused the British House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to become the House of Windsor, and Battenberg to become Mountbatten. The British, German, and Russian royals were cousins. The Tsarevitch Alexei, for example, famous hemophiliac son of Tsar Nicholas II, was the great-grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. If you didn't know better, you might think that as the world grows smaller, it would grow less violent.

At least at this point regarding the English and Germans, the prospect is not war but whether Britain will leave the European Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Prime Minister David Cameron that she would sooner see the UK leave the EU than limit the freedom of movement within EU, with which Britain has a problem. The Iron Lady's ghost hovers, saying "No, no, no."

Continue reading "The Christmas Truce 1914" »

November 06, 2014

Summoning the Ancestors

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 04, 2014

'Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have….'

On this day when many elections may be swayed by aggressive voter suppression laws, it is worth re-watching this powerful speech by Rep. John Lewis, who put his life on the line five decades ago for civil rights and voting rights.

October 24, 2014

Great performances: Jeffrey Wright at Belize in Angels

I was looking for something else, and came upon this clip from the HBO version of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Justin Kirk as Prior Walter, hospitalized with AIDS, tells his friend Belize, played by Jeffrey Wright, about the angels who are visiting him. Prior and Belize are former lovers and dear friends.

I saw both parts of Angels on a Saturday in 1994 on Broadway. I vividly remember Wright delivering the line, "My jaw aches at the memory." Wright's performance in that production won him a Tony, and his HBO reprise won him an Emmy. I appreciate having the TV version (though it lacks another Tony winner, Kathleen Chalfant, whose roles were given to Meryl Streep), because in 1994 I was in the balcony. TV gives you a front-row seat. This landmark drama was the first time I saw Wright. He has played a wide range of characters since, from MLK in HBO's Boycott to a CIA agent in the James Bond movies, to a Dominican drug lord in the Shaft remake, to the dangerous Dr. Valentin Narcisse in Boardwalk Empire. He is always compelling. If you know of a more gifted actor currently working, do tell.

Another clip, this one facing off with the dying Roy Cohn, played by the man whose performance in Dog Day Afternoon convinced Wright he must be an actor. Imagine Wright's thrill at this collaboration. If you are unfamiliar with Angels (something which you ought to correct), the ghost standing next to Belize at the end (when he says "I am the shadow on your grave") is that of Ethel Rosenberg.

October 22, 2014

Rep. Gohmert shows his detailed knowledge of Greek military history

Ah, the endless font of stupidity that is Rep. Louie Gohmert.

October 12, 2014

On National Coming Out Day, a sad anniversary

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October 11 was National Coming Out Day. It was also the third anniversary of the death of our colleague and friend, gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny. Here is a link to my blog post on the night of Frank's death in 2011. Frank's voice remains with us, exhorting us, as he did in 1969, to assert our full rights as gay people:

It is time to open the closet door and let in the fresh air and the sunshine.

It is time to doff and to discard the secrecy, the disguise, and the camouflage.

It is time to hold up your heads and to look the world squarely in the eye as the homosexuals that you are, confident of your equality, confident in the knowledge that as objects of prejudice and victims of discrimination YOU are right and they are wrong, and confident of the rightness of what you are and of the goodness of what you do.

It is time to live your homosexuality fully, joyously, openly, and proudly, assured that morally, socially, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and in every other way: Gay is good.

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September 24, 2014

Crazy Eyes: "Phyllis Schlafly Is My Heroine"

I find that after about 20 seconds, I can filter out Michele Bachmann and just listen to Pachelbel.

September 11, 2014

13 years ago today

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(Photo courtesy U.S. Public Safety News & Events)

In lower Manhattan last night, a tribute in lights on the eve of today's 9/11 anniversary. Among the legacies of that awful day have been reckless military adventures abroad and threats to civil liberties here at home. Citizen, awake!

September 10, 2014

Mayor Gray honors anti-gay activist Bob King

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(Photo by Michael Key, Washington Blade)

Mayor Gray has proclaimed September 29, 2014 "Robert 'Bob' King Day" in Washington, D.C.

We must object. Here are links to several stories and blog entries that detail King's efforts against marriage equality in the District.

Let us be clear: Bob King did NOT merely oppose marriage equality in D.C. He aggressively opposed us, stoked anti-gay bigotry, took money from anti-gay bigots for his efforts, and even asked the U.S. Congress to intervene in D.C. affairs because he didn't like what our own elected leaders had done. The latter is especially egregious.

As GLAA has stated:

The District has no business issuing official proclamations and ceremonial resolutions to honor people and organizations openly hostile to the LGBT community. Officials must put procedures in place to prevent such slip-ups. Good works in other areas do not excuse discrimination or bias.

Mayor Gray is a good friend who has done more than any other mayor for LGBT people in the District. But we cannot agree with his act to honor Bob King. Mr. King contacted me last year seeking to put the past behind us and work together for the sake of the District. I was interested in a reconciliation; but when he refused to express any regrets for his past anti-gay and anti-democratic actions, much less apologize for them, I declined to meet with him. We are not sore winners. But reconciliation requires a change of heart and mind. King merely said, "You won, and we lost." I was already aware of that. What I did not detect was any contrition, nor the slightest warmth in his voice. If you extend your hand to me in fellowship, I will reciprocate. If, on the other hand, you are merely a political operative who wants others to forget your transgressions without your having acknowledged them, it is another matter.

(Hat tip: Bob Summersgill)

August 21, 2014

Smithsonian adds LGBT history to collection

AP reports some good news on the museum front.

This has been in the works for some time. Eight years ago, for example, the Smithsonian acquired about a dozen picket signs from the first gay rights picket at the White House, which was led by Frank Kameny in 1965. That acquisition was thanks to the Kameny Papers Project and the efforts of Charles Francis and Bob Witeck.

Congrats to our friend, photographer Patsy Lynch, for her contributions to the museum's collection. She commented on Facebook, "I am very honored and humble and excited to know that some of my work is now in a vaulted museum and will soon be available for more people to see."

August 16, 2014

Suspected Looters

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Kinda sorta.

(Hat tip: Lauren Chief Elk - ‏@ChiefElk)

August 14, 2014

'All we say to America is be true to what you said on paper'

Tell it, Martin. Words from 46 years ago that are as apt as when he spoke them, the day before he was taken from us.

August 12, 2014

Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014

Another great one passes. In this scene, accompanied by Hoagy Carmichael, Bacall sings to an adoring customer I imagine was her first gay fan.

Years ago, I worked a column around "How Little We Know" and the movie it's from, To Have and Have Not.

It seemed we would have Betty Bacall forever. She was 89.

August 07, 2014

Blow: War Against Whites? I Think Not

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In another excellent commentary, NYT columnist Charles M. Blow blows to smithereens the claim by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) that Democrats are waging a "war on whites." Blow notes the Republican Party's extensive history of racially divisive politics and policies, going back to Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy which was based on exploiting white voters' fears of and hostility toward blacks. Here's a portion:

The racial divisiveness ... continues as Republicans trade racial terms for culture-centric euphemisms. Newt Gingrich, in 2011: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” although most poor people of working age work. Paul Ryan, earlier this year: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” And Bill O’Reilly said recently in a discussion about legalizing marijuana that the left’s position was that marijuana was harmless and “It’s blacks, you know, you get, you’re trapping the blacks because in certain ghetto neighborhoods it’s part of the culture.” ...

Whites are not under attack by Democrats; Republicans like Brooks are simply stoking racial fears to hide their history of racially regressive policies.

Talking about a "war on whites" is like calling marriage equality a threat to straight people. You might well call it a war on exclusivity, which is to say discrimination; but that is not what is being claimed. Those who practice this wedge politics are manipulating voters into voting against their own interests by exploiting fears. If we let cynical men divide us in this way, or if we become discouraged by partisan gridlock and withdraw from participating in elections, we hand over control to those who pick our pockets and line their own at the expense of the common good.

August 04, 2014

R.I.P. James Brady

The video clip above was the first televised news bulletin of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, in which his press secretary, James Brady, received a head wound that would change his life forever. (When ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds gave the bulletin, it was not yet known that Reagan had been hit.) NYT reports on Brady's death earlier today:

James S. Brady, the White House press secretary who was wounded in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and then became a symbol of the fight for gun control, championing tighter regulations from his wheelchair, died on Monday in Alexandria, Va. He was 73.

His family confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

On the rainy afternoon of March 30, 1981, Mr. Brady was struck in a hail of bullets fired by John W. Hinckley Jr., a mentally troubled college dropout who had hoped that shooting the president would impress the actress Jodie Foster, on whom he had a fixation. Mr. Hinckley raised his handgun as Reagan stepped out of a hotel in Washington after giving a speech.

I remember the date of those awful events at the Washington Hilton Hotel because it happened to be my twenty-fifth birthday. A few times in the years that followed, I encountered Jim and Sarah Brady at La Fonda Restaurant on 17th Street (which closed in the 1990s), where he would have to be assisted down the few stairs to the restaurant. They were gracious and unpretentious people, who became gun control advocates after Jim's debilitating injury from the assassination attempt. At this point, the prospects of any kind of gun control have never been more grim, with the nation held hostage by an astonishing level of ideological fervor over the need for guns and more guns. The Bradys tried to make a difference. Here's to both of them.