For those of us old enough to remember where we were in June 1969, the memories flood our minds. How well I remember where I was. An Airline company which I had gone to work for in Oakland, CA. decided they needed someone to coordinate flight crews at JFK airport. I was given the position.
Extreamly excited at the prospect of living in New York City, off I went. My first day, I was filled with awe. Tall buildings, busy streets and hundreds of people and a definite excitement in the air. Of course I wanted to see it all and participate in everything. I could not believe here I was, a young black american ready to take on the big apple.
My second day I chose to set my sites on Greenwich Village as it was known. What a place. Gay bars, straight bars and a multitude of scary little shops that sold everything one could imagine. I could not wait to leave work in the evenings and drive into Manhattan just to people watch. Forty second Street was so sleezy and exciting. Not to mention dashing to the upper west side to the chic Continental Baths to be entertained by Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, and Lorna Luft. Could life possibly be any better than that?
Standing on the corner of 42nd and Broadwayone night, I looked up and read the news headline that that stunned the world. Judy Garland Dead at 47. Every gay person at that time had a love fixation with Garland, and I was no different. Wow, here I was in NY and Judy was dead. When Judy’s body was returned back to NY from London, where she died, the Frank E. Campbell Funeral home was handling all the arrangements. Everyone who was anyone was laid out at Campbell’s.
Judy’s viewing was a must for every gay man in NY, I stood in line for hours just to get a glimps of my Wizard of Oz star. I was so taken by the flowers and her outfit, that I stood in line to see her a second time. Once I had my Garland fix for the night, I opted to spend time in the Village. Upon my arrival, all hell had broken out. Police were everywhere at 7th Ave and Christopher St. Gays were chanting, screaming, yelling. All over a raid into a bar by the name of Stonewall Inn, by the police.
I could not believe that I was in the midst of all this. Police were in no mood to stand around and discuss, and neither were the gays that had enough of harrassment, arrests, and beatings. I was forced by the NYPD to move away from the area. Because I did not move fast enough, along with many others, they proceeded to whip out their nightsticks (batons) and proceed to strike people.
Ducking became the name of the game, as the rocks and bricks began to fly, then the police car that was set on fire. I could see that this was going to turn into an ugly, ugly mess. Ugly it became as the night went on. I took off my T-shirt and wrapped it around a young man who had been struck in the face. I chose not to throw rocks, because with my bad aim, it would have gone through someone’s store window. Plus I thought, oh cute I’m in NY and put in jail for demonstrating, and I’m here on a job assignment.
The anger was building all around 7th ave and Christopher St. Fires were lit, police cars had slashed tires, and some people who were in the Stonewall bar were being abused so we heard. Rumors were flying. Once things died down somewhat, city officials knew this was something that could not and would not be ignored by the rest of the world. Mayor John V. Lindsay did not know what had transpired, and was clueless.
One year later, June 1970 a pride parade in NY. let the world know gay men and women would never take a back seat nor be treated like third class citizens. Forty years later, I am one of many who remember that June night in 1969 and witnessed the begining of GayPride.