09 May 2018
Above: John Rocque's, 'A General Map of North America' [Maps K.Top.118.32]
Our colleagues from the Americas Collections have kindly allowed us a slot on the blog, so we thought we would let you know about some changes that are coming to the Eccles Centre. Spring is a particularly exciting time of year for the Eccles Centre as we welcome our new Visiting Fellows. Our Fellows are drawn from across the UK, Europe and North America and the Centre provides them with a financial award to support research using the North American collections of the British Library, plus a one-year membership of the Library.
Our Visiting Fellowships announcement marks the end of our 2018 awards and so our attention is now turning to calls for applications for our 2019 cohort. An invitation to apply for the Centre’s Fulbright Scholarship is now available on the Fulbright website and we will soon be advertising the next round of our Writer’s Award. Those of you who read The Bookseller will have seen Catherine Eccles’s recent piece about the award and noted that the scope of works eligible will stretch across the whole Americas during 2019. Watch this space for more details.
Further changes to our awards will be obvious when our call for 2019 Fellows comes out this summer. We are keen to help applicants see the potential of the Library’s collections more clearly and so from 2019 there will be a series of research priorities championed by the Centre. These are not meant to be exclusive, we still want to hear about all research the Library’s North American collections can support, and instead provide a window into areas where the collections are particularly strong. The priorities will also shape the Centre’s events schedule for the coming year and, hopefully, create a cohort of fellows working in similar areas. With this in mind the priorities for April 2018 – April 2019 will be:
- North American and Caribbean Indigenous Studies
- Literary, theatrical and artistic connections in Canada, the Caribbean and the US
- Book history and arts in North America
- Pacific politics and geopolitics
- Migration in/from/through Canada, the Caribbean and the US
- LGBTQ histories and culture in Canada, the Caribbean and the US
Should anyone wish to discuss possible research projects, collaborations or events that tie in with these priority areas please get in touch with us at [email protected].
Evidence of our research priorities can be seen in the Centre’s upcoming events for the spring and summer, with ‘Buffalo Bill Goes to China’ and ‘The Death of Captain Cook’ speaking directly to our new priorities. So too does the Centre’s support of the British Library’s, ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’ and the season of events that accompanies the exhibition. We are also excited to be supporting an, 'In Conversation' with The Last Poets; Sarah Churchwell’s critical history of ‘America First’; and our two Black Lives Matter events, ‘From Black Lives Matter to White Power Presidency’ and ‘Black Lives Matter in the US and UK Today’, amongst our packed schedule
We hope the changes to the Centre excite you as much as they do us and we look forward to seeing you at one of our events soon.
Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies
15 September 2017
This week marks the end of the Library's 'Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty' exhibition. In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, the exhibition reflects on gay history in the UK from the trial of Oscar Wilde to the current day. It is both a sober reflection and an inspiring account of the creativity and activism of gay people in the UK, and has led to a substantial reflection across Library blogs such as this post from Asian and African studies on LGBT writing in the Middle East, the sound blog's posts about the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, and this exploration of the literary aspects of the exhibition on the English and Drama blog. As the exhibition drew to a close, it seemed timely to add the voice of the Americas to this.
A key concern of the exhibition is the UK gay rights movements, and the Gay Liberation Front's 1970 manifesto and collection of newsletters holds a particularly prominent position within this narrative. The UK GLF was directly inspired by the US Gay Liberation Front which formed in the wake of the Stonewall Riots in New York. Stonewall is rightly seen as a seminal moment in the worldwide Gay Rights movement, however it is best considered within a longer timeline of LGBT activism both on the East and West coast.
An earlier event in San Francisco has striking similarities with Stonewall: in August 1966, a riot broke out at Compton's Cafeteria after police tried to forcibly remove a transgender patron. Some gay bars were tolerated in San Francisco following extensive negotiations by ‘homophile’ organisations with local police. However, "cross-dressing" was still illegal and this provided a justification for police to raid and close establishments that transgender people frequented. The Compton's riot was thus the culmination of years of harassment of drag queens, other trans and gay people. The event has been called "the first known instance of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in United States history" by Susan Stryker, a historian and director of a documentary about the riot, Screaming Queens.
Protest, resistance, and social justice movements were particularly well organised in the city and wider Bay Area, including gay rights’ groups. For example, the Society for Individual Rights formed in 1964 which opened a community centre and organised sit-ins; the gay youth group Vanguard established in 1965 and joined forces with a local church to peacefully protest establishments that refused service to LGBT people. While the groups were focussed on gay rights, individuals made connections with other civil rights issues and shared tactics, a particularly interesting example of which were the links drawn with the Black Power movement.
The Black Panther party headquarters were across the Bay in Oakland. In August 1970, co-founder of the BPP, Huey Newton, delivered a speech in which he challenged homophobia and misogyny within the party.
The speech reflects how Newton was developing his thinking on gay rights, nonetheless it was unequivocal in its call to BPP membership to align with LGBT and women’s movements.
“…we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society… we know that homosexuality is a fact that exists, and we must understand it in its purest form: that is, a person should have the freedom to use his body in whatever way he wants.
That is not endorsing things in homosexuality that we wouldn’t view as revolutionary. But there is nothing to say that a homosexual cannot also be a revolutionary. And maybe I’m now injecting some of my prejudice by saying that ‘even a homosexual can be a revolutionary.’ Quite the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary.”
The relationship between the various different Bay Area movements is here spelled out, and BPP’s militant tactics for challenging police brutality and organising radical community anti-poverty programmes struck a direct chord with some LGBT individuals. One such person was the Rev. Ray Broshears who had been at the Compton’s Riot, ran the Helping Hands Gay Community Service Center, and was one of the founders of San Francisco’s first Gay Pride march. After witnessing multiple acts of brutality that were ignored by police, and being heavily beaten himself in 1973, he formed the ‘vigilante’ group the Lavender Panthers. Consisting of 21 members, they patrolled the streets of the city to ward off attacks on LGBT people. In a press conference announcing the group’s formation, Broshears stated “We deplore violence, but we must meet force with force… Never again will a gay person be beaten without retaliation.”
Needless to say, the Bay Area continued to be a centre for LGBTQ rights and creativity, which is reflected in our collections. Moving on from the 1970's, and keeping in mind the Compton’s riot included transgender, multi-racial, and gay participants, I would like to flag up three collection items. The first is a newsletter produced by the San Francisco Women’s Centre between 1982-4 called Black Lesbian Newsletter (later retitled Onyx). Each issue has a beautifully illustrated cover and consists of essays, poems, and news. The two depicted below highlight the recurring theme of police brutality, but also the joy found in companionship, community and racial heritage (this is a Kwanzaa celebration).
The second is an independently published magazine from the early 2000's. Shellac aimed to meld critical commentary with artistic expression, ranging from poetry, photography, digital art, and essays. Stating in its opening issue that it "is the production of new forms of knowledge and political alliances among queer(ious) people of color" the magazine was sadly short-lived, but contains some gems such as 'A Poem Upon My Hate' by Richard Branco who expounds on the challenges he faces living in an increasingly gentrified and unaffordable city as a Latino homosexual.
Last but by no means least is an audio recording made at the Library last year by the musician Ezra Furman which you can listen to on the Library's soundcloud account. Based in the Bay Area at various points throughout his career, Furman has spoken at length about his sexuality, gender-nonconformity, Jewishness, and how they inform his creativity. The Bay Area forms the backdrop to the video for his song Restless Year. In it he playfully moves around the city trying on different identities, absorbing cultural influences, participating in a queer dance-troupe/community. The lyrics of the song reflect on the experience of feeling as though you do not fit into society, and striving for freedom through personal creative expression.
These are themes that run through his catalogue and Furman discusses them in detail in his talk at the Library. Opening with the reminder of William Burrough’s comment that the word ‘punk’ used to be a term of abuse for “someone who take it up the ass… it was a queer thing”, Furman reflects on punk music and the influence of Lou Reed who he has previously called ‘radically free’. In the interview, he identifies this as stemming as much from Reed’s sexuality as from his creativity, both of which were in a process of constant flux. Reed, he points out, was not afraid of contradictions or being limited by other people’s ideas of him.
Not on the soundcloud which is edited for copyright reasons, but available to listen to in the Library’s reading rooms, is the solo performance Furman ended the night with. Covering several Reed/Velvet Underground songs, he also includes an unreleased song of his own. Titled either ‘Amateur’ or ‘I Wanna Be An Amateur’, the lyrics are true to these preoccupations:
“I wanna be an amateur
That’s what I would like to someday be
I wanna be an amateur
Back like I used to be
I wanna go down to the essence, down to the essence, down to my clumsy childish essence
I wanna be essentially unfiltered, free.
I don’t like power,
I don’t like hierarchy.
I don’t worship human power,
And the idea of an elite is not for me.
I’m an American,
And I like to think that means real democracy”
While the term ‘identity politics’ is often misused and at times can feel as though it is a hollow cliché, Furman’s work challenges us to take it seriously. When considered alongside the above history of activism in the Bay Area, we can see the echoes of radicalism running alongside insinuations of Furman's religious thought woven into the song. All of this lends the line ‘I’m an American’ a tone of defiance, it is an assertion of a vision of a more equitable and inclusive society.
 Nicola Pasulka, Ladies in the Street: Transgender Uprising Changed Lives, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/05/05/404459634/ladies-in-the-streets-before-stonewall-transgender-uprising-changed-lives
 The full text of the speech is published in Huey Newton, The Huey P. Newton Reader, shelfmark m04/12950.
 Bob Calhoun, Yesterday’s Crimes, The Lavender Panthers, San Francisco’s LGBT Vigilantes https://archives.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2016/06/16/yesterdays-crimes-the-lavender-panthers-san-franciscos-lgbt-vigilantes
 The full recording can be found at shelfmark C927/1530
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
- Rotimi Fani-Kayode Transatlantic Vision
- The Revolution Will Be Sexualized
- E-resources for Women in the United States
- Finding the Humor in 'Sappho'
- Mrs. America: Still Unfinished Business
- Mrs. America: Unfinished Business
- Reactions to HIV in the 1980s and COVID-19 stigma
- From the collections: A Streetcar Named Desire
- Spring news from the Eccles Centre
- LGBT activism and creativity in the Bay Area