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On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, was raided by police. But instead of submitting to the routine compliance the NYPD expected, patrons and a growing crowd decided to fight back. The five days of rioting that ensued changed forever the face of gay and lesbian life.
In Stonewall, renowned historian and activist Martin Duberman tells the full story of this pivotal moment in history. With riveting narrative skill, he recreates those revolutionary, sweltering nights in vivid detail through the lives of six people who were drawn into the struggle for LGBTQ rights. Their stories combine into an unforgettable portrait of the repression that led up to the riots, which culminates when they triumphantly participate in the first Gay Rights March of 1970, the roots of today’s Pride Marches.
Fifty years after the riots, Stonewall remains a rare work that evokes with a human touch an event in history that still profoundly affects life today.
Becoming human is becoming individual, and we become individual under the guidance of cultural patterns … which give form, order, point, and direction to our lives.… [But] we must … descend into detail, past the misleading tags, past the metaphysical types, past the empty similarities, to grasp firmly the essential character of not only the various cultures but the various sorts of individuals within each culture, if we wish to encounter humanity face to face.
The Interpretation of Culture
PART ONE GROWING UP
PART TWO YOUNG ADULTHOOD
PART THREE THE EARLY SIXTIES
PART FOUR THE MID-SIXTIES
PART FIVE THE LATE SIXTIES
PART SIX 1969
PART SEVEN POST-STONEWALL: 1969–70
My greatest debt is to the six people who trusted me to tell their stories and endured the multiple taping sessions needed to make that possible: Yvonne (Maua) Flowers, Jim Fouratt, Foster Gunnison, Jr., Karla Jay, Sylvia Ray Rivera, and Craig Rodwell. I sent the completed manuscript to all six to check for factual inaccuracies, and listened carefully to their occasional disagreement with this or that emphasis—but all understood that finally I could not surrender to them the authorial responsibility to interpret the evidence. Unless otherwise noted (which happens with some frequency), all the quotations in this book are from the transcripts of those taped interviews with my six subjects, together totaling several hundred hours; I’m alerting the reader here to the source of most of the quotations in order to avoid having to make repetitive citations throughout the book itself.
I have also been fortunate in being allowed to use several major archival collections still in private hands. In this regard, I am especially indebted to Foster Gunnison, Jr., and William B. Kelley. My ability to tell the story of the pre-Stonewall political movement in some detail has largely hinged on having access to those two extraordinary collections. In addition, the rich International Gay Information Center (IGIC) Papers—formerly known as the Hammond-Eves Collection—in the New York Public Library Manuscript Division has recently been processed and contains invaluable records and correspondence.
All of this material has proven to be so fresh and informative that I have paused at certain points in the book to convey it. But not, I hope, paused too long; wherever I felt the documentary details threatened to overwhelm the narrative and convert the book into a traditional monograph, I have relegated them to the (sometimes lengthy) footnotes—which I have in turn relegated to the back of the book.
I am grateful to a number of people (other than the six subjects themselves) who allowed me to tape-record their recollections and thereby flesh out a number of critical points in the narrative: Martin Boyce, Nick Browne, Ryder Fitzgerald, Robert Heide, Robert Kohler, Sascha L., Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Chuck Shaheen, Jim Slaven, Gregory Terry, Joe Tish, and Ivan Valentin. I am also indebted to Steven Watson for providing me with tapes and transcripts of interviews he did in the late seventies with Marsha P. Johnson, Minette, Sylvia Ray Rivera, and Holly Woodlawn.
For assorted other favors, source materials, encouragement and leads, I’m grateful to Mariette Pathy Allen, Desmond Bishop, Mimi Bowling, Renée Cafiero, Barry Davidson, Richard Dworkin, Dan Evans, Barbara Gittings, Eric Gordon, Erica Gottfried, Liddell Jackson, Marty Jezer, Kay “Tobin” Lahusen, Tom McGovern, Joan Nestle, Duncan Osborne, Jim Owles, Gabriel Rotello, Vito Russo, Bebe Scarpi, Bree Scott-Hartland, La Vaughan Slaven, Mark Thompson, Jack Topchik, Jeffrey Van Dyke, Paul Varnell, Bruni Vega, Rich Wandel, Fred Wasserman, Thomas Waugh, and Randy Wicker. For the Stonewall chapter, I am indebted to Dolly and Leo Scherker for permission to consult materials that their son, Michael, had gathered for a planned oral history of the Stonewall riots that was tragically aborted by his premature death. I have included only a few brief remarks from Scherker’s interviews (so cited in each instance in the accompanying footnote), but hearing in full his twenty or so tapes has broadly informed my own work.
Finally, my manuscript has greatly benefited from the careful readings Jolanta Benal, Matthew Carnicelli, John D’Emilio, Frances Goldin, Arnie Kantrowitz, William B. Kelley, and Eli Zal gave it; their cogent responses caused me to rethink any number of sections in the narrative. The pioneer activist Jim Kepner—whose encyclopedic knowledge of the gay movement is unrivaled—provided me with a detailed, incisive commentary that saved me from error and deepened my understanding at many points. I have also been extremely fortunate to have had Arnold Dolin of NAL/Dutton as the book’s editor and Frances Goldin as its agent. Both have guided Stonewall through its various incarnations with the dedication and skill for which they are already well known.
Finally, to my partner, Eli Zal—to whom this book is dedicated—I owe the priceless gift of sustained, loving support.
“Stonewall” is the emblematic event in modern lesbian and gay history. The site of a series of riots in late June-early July 1969 that resulted from a police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar, “Stonewall” has become synonymous over the years with gay resistance to oppression. Today, the word resonates with images of insurgency and self-realization and occupies a central place in the iconography of lesbian and gay awareness. The 1969 riots are now generally taken to mark the birth of the modern gay and lesbian political movement—that moment in time when gays and lesbians recognized all at once their mistreatment and their solidarity. As such, “Stonewall” has become an empowering symbol of global proportions.
Yet remarkably—since 1994 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall riots—the actual story of the upheaval has never been told completely, or been well understood. We have, since 1969, been trading the same few tales about the riots from the same few accounts—trading them for so long that they have transmogrified into simplistic myth. The decades preceding Stonewall, moreover, continue to be.regarded by most gays and lesbians as some vast neolithic wasteland—and this, despite the efforts of pioneering historians like Allan Bérubé, John D’Emilio and Lillian Faderman to fill in the landscape of those years with vivid, politically astute personalities.
The time is overdue for grounding the symbolic Stonewall in empirical reality and placing the events of 1969 in historical context. In attempting to do this, I felt it was important not to homogenize experience to the point where individual voices are lost sight of. My intention was to embrace precisely what most contemporary historians have discarded: the ancient, essential enterprise of telling human stories. Too often, in my view, professional historians have yielded to a “sociologizing” tendency that reduces three-dimensional lives to statistical cardboard—and then further distances the reader with a specialized jargon that claims to provide greater cognitive precision but serves more often to seal off and silence familiar human sounds.
I have therefore adopted an unconventional narrative strategy in the opening sections of this book: the recreation of half a dozen lives with a particularity that conforms to no interpretative category but only to their own idiosyncratic rhythms. To focus on particular stories does not foreclose speculation about patterns of behavior but does, I believe, help to ensure that the speculation will reflect the actual disparities of individual experience. My belief in the irreducible specialness of each life combines with a paradoxical belief in the possibility that lives, however special, can be shared. It is, if you like, a belief in democracy: the-importance of the individual, the commonality of life.
For the six portraits in the book, I have deliberately chosen people whose stories were in themselves absorbing odysseys, and yet could at the same time speak to other gay men and lesbians. Jim Fouratt’s struggles to remain within the Catholic Church, for example, or to gain entrance into the world of the New York theater, do not duplicate anyone else’s religious or artistic experiences, yet should prove sufficiently similar to illustrate them broadly. Yvonne Flowers’s ambivalence, as a black woman, about white lesbian bars, is not precisely anyone else’s reaction to the bar scene, yet will be familiar enough to many to call out comparable feelings in them.
The six people I ultimately decided to profile seemed to “fit” well together. Their stories were different enough to suggest the diversity of gay and lesbian lives, yet interconnected enough to allow me to interweave their stories when, in the second half of. the book, the historical canvas broadens out into the Stonewall riots, gay politics, and the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March.
This is not to say that these six lives represent all possible variations on gay and lesbian experience in the Stonewall period. To only begin to enumerate the many absent possibilities, these stories say nothing about rural or village, Chicano- or Italian- or Asian-American gay lives—nor anything about what it was or is like to be a gay postman, a lesbian pharmacist, a bisexual pop star. No group of six could possibly represent the many pathways of gay and lesbian existence. But they can suggest some of the significant childhood experiences, adult coping strategies, social and political activities, values, perceptions and concerns that centrally characterized the Stonewall generation.
If the first sections of this book, with their focus on individual lives, are designed to make past experience more directly accessible than is common in a work of history, they are decidedly not designed as “popularized” history—by which is usually meant the slighting of historical research or the compromising of historical accuracy. My emphasis on personality might legitimately be called novelistic but, in contrast to the novelist, I have tried to restrict invention and remain faithful to known historical fact. As in my previous books, I have searched diligently for previously unknown or unused primary source materials (and have been lucky enough to have found them in abundance), and have scrupulously adhered to scholarly criteria for evaluating evidence. Just as dull, abstract prose is no guarantee of reliability, so lively human representation is no indicator of slovenly scholarship.
My hope is that the focus on individuals and on narrative will increase the ability of readers to identify—some with one story, some with another—with experiences different from, but comparable to, their own. I know of no other way to make the past really speak to the present. And gay men and lesbians—so long denied any history—have a special need and claim on historical writing that is at once accurate and accessible.
CRAIG RODWELL: Raised in a Chicago school for troubled boys, he arrived in New York as a teenager, emerged as a radical figure in the Mattachine Society, opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore and spearheaded the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March.
YVONNE FLOWERS: The only African-American child attending an all-white grade school in New Rochelle in 1942, she grew up to become a jazz fanatic, a devotee of nightlife, an occupational therapist and teacher, and one of the founders of Salsa Soul Sisters.
KARLA JAY: Born in Flatbush and a graduate of Barnard, she joined the feminist collective the Redstockings, as well as the Gay Liberation Front, subsequently completed a doctorate in comparative literature, authored a number of books and earned a full professorship.
SYLVIA (RAY) RIVERA: Hustling on Times Square at age 11, she became a street transvestite, a fixture in the Times Square area, a fearless defender of her sisters, and the founder of STAR—Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.
JIM FOURATT: Brought up in Rhode Island, a teenager of precocious intelligence, he joined and left the priesthood, became a New York actor, hipster, antiwar protestor, and a major spokesperson for the countercultural Yippie movement.
FOSTER GUNNISON, JR.: The privileged scion of a wealthy yet emotionally distant family, he forsook business and academic careers, plunged into the pre-Stonewall homophile movement, became its archivist, and helped plan the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March.
Marion Rodwell had been reluctantly boarding out her young son, Craig, during the week. Divorced and working in Chicago as a low-paid secretary, Marion hadn’t known what else to do; she couldn’t afford to stay home and she didn’t have enough money to hire a competent baby-sitter. For several years, Craig lived during the week—Marion reclaiming him on weekends—with Mrs. Ryberg, a kindly woman who took in a number of neighborhood children. As soon as he was old enough, Mrs. Ryberg gave him chores to do, including the job of kneading yellow coloring into the margarine to make it look more like butter (this was wartime, with butter unavailable). Craig liked Mrs. Ryberg so much that he hadn’t minded the work, though it was strenuous and he was little more than a toddler.
But when Craig was five, Marion decided he should be in a more stimulating environment, and she turned to an inexpensive day-care center on Chicago’s North Side. But it quickly became apparent that the low rates reflected the minimal individual attention given. Marion felt at her wit’s end when a Mrs. Merkle, who sometimes worked at the day care center and had taken a shine to Craig, told her that she would board the boy full-time if Marion would pay her a small sum each week. Marion agreed, hoping Mrs. Merkle would be able to give Craig the daily affection and attention he needed.
Attention he got, but very little affection. Mrs. Merkle also took, in laundry to piece out an income, and she put Craig to work running sheets and towels through a mangle, watching hawk-eyed to make sure the five-year-old didn’t slack off. Craig worked in constant terror of getting his fingers caught in the mangle, and he soon grew to hate Mrs. Merkle. But she found the arrangement profitable and began to play with the idea of adopting Craig as her own son (or indentured servant). Word of Mrs. Merkle’s intention reached Marion and threw her into a panic. Mrs. Merkle had a husband, and Marion feared the courts might equate that with “having a stable home.” Desperate, she confided in her boss. A devout Christian Scientist, he had connections with the church-affiliated Chicago Junior School for “problem” boys, and before long he had arranged for Craig to be admitted there free of charge.
Craig never forgot that fall day in 1947 when his mother drove him out to Chicago Junior. At age six, he didn’t entirely understand what was happening to him, but his fright was palpable. The school was located some fifty miles outside of Chicago, set deep in the country between the towns of Dundee and Elgin. A complex of old, marginally maintained buildings, Chicago Junior was surrounded by woods and sealed off by a chain-link fence. Before leaving Craig off, Marion did her best to comfort him, assuring her son that with some forty other boys as playmates, he would be happy at the school. She promised that she would unfailingly come to see him on the third Sunday of every month, the only day visitors were allowed on the grounds.
But Craig had not been reassured. During his first month at the school, he cried himself to sleep every night. And every morning at breakfast, he threw up the unfamiliar hot cereal. A housemother cured him of the crying by sternly lecturing him about how unhappy his mother would be should she learn of his “bad” behavior. Another housemother cured him of the vomiting by picking him up by the neck from the breakfast table, marching him into the bathroom and forcing him to stand over the toilet and eat the vomit.
The housemothers came in two basic varieties: the stern ones who mechanically kept to the rules (and kept the boys at arms’ length), and the warm surrogate mothers. Mrs. Wilkins, the music teacher, who doubled as a substitute housemother, quickly became Craig’s favorite. The students lived in three dormitories, twelve to fifteen boys in each, and a housemother slept in a small room adjoining each dorm. Whenever Mrs. Wilkins was in charge, she let the boys do pretty much as they liked—make noise, and stay up past their bedtime—and usually refrained from checking up on them in the middle of the night.
She would also read them stories. Craig had two favorites. One was about a pair of boys who wanted to be brothers so badly, they pricked each other’s fingers and formed a “blood bond.” The other was “The Happy Prince.” As Craig retells that story, it took place in a poor middle-European city that had a richly jeweled statue of Prince Somebody or Other in its main square. One day, a pigeon sitting on the Prince’s shoulder noticed that a tear had formed in his eye. When the bird asked the Prince why he was unhappy, the Prince explained that the people in the city were starving because of poor crops, and he urged the pigeon to take the emerald embedded in his eye and sell it to buy the people food.
On and on the story went: The Prince would cry, would encourage the pigeon to sell the diamonds on his sword handle, the rubies on his breastplate—and so on—to provide coal for the people’s stoves, warm clothing to put on their backs—and so on. At the story’s close, all the jewels are gone, but the Prince is happy in the knowledge that the people no longer suffer. Craig adored the story and contended in later years that it had taught him important lessons about the need to share worldly goods with those less fortunate. (He also learned in later years that the story was written by Oscar Wilde.)
There were only two men on staff at the Chicago Junior School. One was Mr. Lazarus, who had himself been a student there and who in summer months would take some of the boys out for a midnight swim in the ancient concrete pool on the grounds and then astonish them by diving underwater, pulling off his bathing suit, and letting his ass shine naked in the moonlight. No one, so far as Craig knew, was ever invited to touch it.
The only other man at the school was its superintendent, the hated Mr. Kilburn. He enjoyed pitting the boys against each other in competition for his favor and each night would award the most “deserving” student the supreme honor of carrying a huge dinner tray to him and his wife in their apartment on the top of the classroom building; the bearer’s reward was a Baby Ruth candy bar. Craig never once got to carry the tray. For after getting over his initial fright and settling into the school’s routines, he had quickly become something of a rebel—the boy who challenged authority and “sassed” back.
That would alone have earned Kilburn’s dislike. What intensified it was his conviction that Craig was a sissy. Two hours of sports were mandated at Chicago Junior for every student every day of the year. Craig, as the tallest boy in his group, was good at basketball, but inept in baseball—scandalously so, in Kilburn’s view. Deciding he would teach Craig how to throw the baseball “like a real boy,” Kilburn made him trudge a mile to the baseball field after dinner each night to get the appropriate coaching.
What convinced Kilburn that Craig’s prospects in life were dim was his discovery that Craig had been sending away for autographed pictures of movie stars, had managed to collect several dozen, and—scandalously, again—had been sharing them with the other boys. Kilburn promptly confiscated the collection and thereafter opened all of Craig’s incoming mail to make sure it contained no offending material. To underscore the horrendous nature of Craig’s crime, Kilburn meted out his favorite punishment: Craig was given “one hundred burdock”—that is, assigned to dig up a hundred of the burdock plants that dotted the grounds; the burdock had long, deep roots, and to kill it one had to laboriously dig out every last piece.
This was but one of several Dickensian features of the school. Corporal punishment, including paddling, was commonplace; one teacher’s favorite method was to beat offending students with an electric cord. The boys themselves did almost all the work on the place, keeping up the grounds, helping in the kitchen, serving the food. They marched in formation to meals in the dining hall, had to sit on the front part of their chairs to keep their backs stiff, and during breakfast were forbidden to speak. Strictly enforced prayer sessions began with Bible study at five A.M. and were reinforced periodically throughout the day, even during football huddles. When Craig didn’t understand something in the Bible, or in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, which the boys were also made to study, he would raise his hand and say so. Most of the teachers treated this as a form of defiance. They sternly warned Craig that he was being “difficult,” and his reputation as a rebellious child spread.
The draconian spirit at Chicago Junior produced a variety of bans. No incoming phone calls were permitted; the one phone on the place was locked up in the laundry room. Entertainment consisted of an occasional bonfire in fall and an occasional swim in summer, plus carefully monitored television once a week (the boys were allowed to watch only I Remember Mama and Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, and the set was turned off during commercials for fear the cigarette and beer ads might prove too appealing) And any boy being punished for any reason was automatically denied his monthly visiting day—which meant Craig sometimes didn’t get to see Marion for months at a time.
Among the boys’ few diversions were occasional square dances, which they would perform for the Evanston Women’s Club and other local groups as a fund-raising device. Half the boys would dress in regular clothes, and the other half would don little skirts and halters, which the housemothers had sewn for them. As a reward for the performance, each boy would be given a stocking filled with candy, fruit, and pennies.
There was also a Halloween party every year in the gym. The housemothers would again make costumes for the boys; one year Craig went as a fat lady, with a pillow stuck under his dress and lipstick smeared on his face. (When the boys lined up to have Craig give them kiss marks on the cheek, Mr. Kilburn ordered a halt.) The thirteen-year-old seniors were taken into the town of Elgin once a month to learn the fox-trot and the waltz—though the boys viewed this as punishment, not entertainment.
Despite these rigors, Craig was happier than not during his seven years at the Chicago Junior School and retains “wonderful, vivid memories” of the place. They center, not surprisingly, on the intensely emotional, sometimes erotic friendships that developed among the boys themselves.
Craig’s first crush, when he was seven, was on an older boy (aged eight) named Bob Palmer. Bob’s talented piano playing made him something of a school star and Craig “just worshiped” him. Epiphany came on a cold winter night. In the freezing, drafty dorms each boy kept an extra blanket at the foot of his bed, and Craig awoke one morning to discover that his blanket had been pulled up over him. He “just knew” Bob Palmer had done it, had gotten up in the middle of the night to make sure his little friend was warm.
Craig was the first boy in his age group to reach puberty, and in the showers the others never tired of staring in amazement at his emerging pubic hair. Harry, a slightly older boy, moved matters to the next logical stage. He took Craig out to one of the gigantic oak trees in the woods that the boys (disobeying the rules) loved to climb, and when they were standing at the top of the tree, he unzipped Craig’s pants and said he was going to show him something. Craig immediately got a roaring hard-on and Harry masturbated him. To Craig’s astonishment, “white stuff” flew out of his penis, great gobs of it covering his jeans—followed by panic over how to explain the stains to his housemother. Craig and Harry finally concocted a tale about “finding a can of white paint while playing in the woods.”
Not all the boys were as winning as Harry. Chicago Junior, was, after all, a school for “disturbed” youth, and a few of the boys really did have problems beyond being overweight or having rejecting parents. When Ted invited Craig for a romp in the woods, the scenario moved quickly beyond white paint: Ted wanted to stick a pin up the opening in Craig’s penis. Craig had the good sense to jump up and run. Ted tried to give chase, but he was a large, clumsy boy and Craig easily outdistanced him. Eventually Ted was sent to St. Charles, the nearby state reformatory. “We’re going to send you to St. Charles” was a standard threat at Chicago Junior, though one infrequently carried out.
Most of the sex play among the boys involved kissing and masturbation, though “cornholing” was known to happen, and oral sex was frequent enough for rumors of it to reach Mr. Kilburn. He at once convened an assembly—always a weighty event at the school—to express his indignation over rumors that boys were “inserting their penises into other boys’ mouths.” He demanded that each boy submit a statement to him, declaring whether he had or had not ever committed that mortal sin.
- On Sale
- May 1, 1994
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Hachette Book Group