On March 28, UNCG’s History Department presented: “Searching For LGBT History”as a part of the 2018 UNCG Harriet Elliott Lecture Series on History Matters. The keynote speakers of the event were Dr. John D’Emilio and Mandy Carter.
D’Emilio is a professor Emeritus of History and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He had previously taught at UNCG for 12 years.
Initially, D’Emilio feared that he would not have a career at all, if UNCG did not take the risk in hiring him to teach gay history or the history of sexuality.
He went into detail about three projects he has been working on for the last 40 years, such as: “History of LGBT Activism before Stonewall and the Birth of Gay Liberation,” “Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin” and “Aspects of Chicago LGBT History.”
“I want to use those projects to suggest how the process of doing LGBT history has changed since the 1970’s,” said D’Emilio. “I will provide a social context. I want to give you a sense of how the searching for, the researching, the preserving and making the accessible of archive material and how it has been joined over the decades with efforts at building communities, creating change in the LGBT community by border culture and in law and public policy,”
D’Emilio then provided further detail about the life of Bayard Rustin.
“Bayard Rustin is one of the most important social justice activists in the United States in the mid-20th century. He is best known as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He is probably more responsible than any other individual of bringing non-violence into the heart of the Civil Rights movement. He was experimenting in the 1940s-’50s in North and South Carolina to challenge segregation. He was a key person in the emergence of Dr. King, a national leader devoted to non-violence. He tutored Dr. King, organized events in Montgomery, and he wrote plans for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. After the Montgomery bus boycott, he organized national events that would give Dr. King a platform. He was also a leader for the Anti-Nuclear Movement,” said D’Emilio.
Rustin’s personal life, D’Emilio explained, was another matter.
“Since he was a black gay man, he used to get caught walking in neighborhoods that weren’t black neighborhoods. Once, in 1953, he was convicted and jailed in Pasadena, California, for public sex in the backseat of a car with another man. Heterosexuals were having sex in the backseat all the time, but they weren’t getting arrested. Chicago Tribune wrote an article about it, and it became a public scandal in the peace movement. He often had to be kept at a distance from Dr. King and the public eye. He had to live with the homophobia of other activists that pointed at him. The archives were almost completely silent about Rustin’s sexual identity.”
The event then transitioned to panelist, Mandy Carter, who is the co-founder of the organizations, Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and the National Black Justice. She talked about the background of the historical events that occurred in American history, and how these historical leaders influenced her.
“I had only heard about Bayard Rustin at a high school work camp. The one thing I had never had to worry about was coming out to my parents. In this regard, I was struck by the commonality between Bayard and I. Bayard never knew his father, his sister was his mother and his grandmother was a fierce Quaker woman. How Bayard and I never met is still a shock to me,” said Carter.
After the event, attendant and UNC Chapel Hill student, Isabell Moore, said, “I think what was spoken about here speaks to big issues in society, and it relates to my research about activism being related to building coalition across lines of differences, such as, recognizing common struggles and finding those moments of interception.”