Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. The three sites of progress toward civil rights for everyone that the President cited in his wonderful inaugural address yesterday. Hearing it made me sit up straighter (pardon the expression) and brought me to tears. I was watching with Steveningen, and we just looked at each other in amazement, because this IS the first time that the rights of lesbians and gay men have been mentioned in this way on a national stage. Each of these events is like the others because they each have come to symbolize a liberation movement. However, a discussion of how these like events differ in details is worthy. Each event provides significant support to the idea that CIVIL RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS, and these events also provide some very similar messages, specifically, that asking politely doesn't always produce results.
Below the great orange friendship circle:
So these events. Each came at a different point in the struggle for the rights of the group involved and each group has come closer to full American citizenship as a result of the event. In the order in which they were mentioned, which happens to be chronological.
The conference produced a Declaration of Sentiments which included 15 clauses that enumerated the repeated injuries and usurpations women have endured from men throughout history, and the assembly voted on each one. #1,
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.was considered especially extreme, and this was the only resolution produced by the convention that was not ratified unanimously. THESE included #s 2 and 3.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners.
What were its effects? Well, it didn't prevent Congress from sending out the 14th Amendment, which introduced gender into the Constitution for the first time, and when women decided to contest the 15th Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled in Minor v. Happersett (1875), that the right of suffrage was not a necessary attribute of national citizenship, affirming that the Fifteenth Amendment forbade only disfranchisement by race, and this led to major abuses in the registration of freedmen who now could be discriminated against based on education or income. We'll explore that further when we get to Selma.
After that, it took another forty years for women, most notably Alice Paul, to mount a concerted effort to secure the vote. This effort had little of the gentility of Seneca Falls or even of Carrie Chapman Catt's political maneuvering in the Westen states. The first women's picket line went up at the White House on January 10 1917, and Alice Paul kept up media interest in it well into 1918.
Congress convened December 4, and the House voted on suffrage January 10, 1918, passing it 274-136. The Senate stalled until June 27 (Why? Several states had by referendum rejected women's suffrage, and some Senators didn't want to go against the will of those states to impose suffrage on them), when they decided not to vote on the amendment during that session. On August 6 48 women were arrested outside the White House and given light sentences. The Senate finally voted at the beginning of October 1918 and failed to reach the 2/3 required by two votes. FINALLY, after more demonstrations and more arrests, this time in Boston, the Senate passed the amendment June 4, 1919. The 19th Amendment became law August 26, 1920.
The event that began at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama March 7, 1965, and ended in Montgomery, the state capital, eighteen days later, marked the culmination of the Southern Civil Rights movement and resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which our Supreme Court will be reviewing in the spring to see if we have indeed reached a post-racial society (I can hear our Black Kossacks snickering here, and I'm snickering with them).
An aside about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You know about Strom Thurmond's filibuster, but that wasn't the only thing Southern Congressmen did in their attempt to scuttle the bill, although the jury is still out on the motivation of Howard Smith, D-Virginia and rabid segregationist, who added "sex" to the categories against which discrimination was forbidden. The bill passed with "sex" in it, and that led to an Equal Rights amendment which was scuttled by people like Phyllis Schlafly who warned that women would lose their "special" position in American society and that we'd have unisex bathrooms.
Anyhow, Selma happened because, even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had ended legal (de jure) segregation, African Americans in the south were still being deprived of the right to vote. This was evident in a floor fight at the 1964 Democratic National Convention between the white Mississippi delegation and the Black Freedom Democratic slate, which the white slate won. From a new textbook, Exploring American Histories: A Brief History with Sources:
After [Alabama] state troopers shot and killed a black demonstrator in February 1965, Dr. King called for a march . . . to petition Governor George Wallace to end the violence and allow blacks to vote. Local law enforcement officers answered their peaceful protests with arrests and beatings. On Sunday, March 7, as black and white marchers left Selma, the sheriff's forces sprayed them with tear gas, beat them, and sent them running for their lives back to town. A few days later, a white clergyman who had joined the protesters was killed on the streets of Selma by a group of white thugs. On March 21, after another failed attempt to march to Montgomery, King led protesters on the fifty-mile hike to the state capital, where they arrived safely four days later.See also smokey545's diary, My family's experiences with Martin Luther King at the Selma Civil Rights March.
Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act August 6, 1965, and, five days later, the Watts district of Los Angeles went up in flames. Why Watts? Black Los Angeles had been redlined into this area. The country learned about de facto segregation over the next three summers as riots happened after police confrontations in Northern black communities (the riots in Newark and Detroit in 1967 were particularly severe), and riots took place upon the assassination of Dr. King as well. The civil rights movement for white people was superseded by anti-Vietnam agitation, and younger members of the Civil Rights movement like Stokely Carmichael began to discuss Black Power. Now, forty-five years later, of course, we have a mixed-race president who identifies as Black, but racism has in no way been vanquished.
Not really the ORIGIN of the gay liberation movement -- see my diaries The Los Angeles context for Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society and Gay Liberation and Identity Politics: The Case of California -- but the event that the newsmedia and popular culture CONSIDER its origin. Previous efforts on behalf of LGBT (for convenience I'm being anachronistic) rights had been mostly (the riot at San Francisco's Compton's Cafeteria, for instance, is a dramatic exception) very decorous : the late Frank Kameny and the late Barbara Giddings insisted on jackets and ties for men and skirts and stockings for women at demonstrations. Stonewall, however, was a flashpoint event.
While the police waited for patrol wagons to cart away the arrested suspects and the seized alcohol, the bar’s patrons began to resist. They refused to follow police orders. Men refused to show their IDs, and men dressed as women refused to accompany female officers to the bathroom to have their gender confirmed.And so it was. The big moment, of course, came in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the mental illness categories.
Those who weren’t arrested exited through the front door, but they didn’t go far. Within a short time, the crowd swelled to an estimated 2,000. As police put the arrested into the wagons that were now on the scene, the crowd threw what they had—pennies, beer bottles, trash cans—at the police and shouted, “Gay power!”
Thirteen people were arrested, and four police officers were injured at Stonewall.
The riots continued for six nights.
The resistance wasn’t planned, nor were the riots that followed.
“Every movement arrives at a moment when people say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” says Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, or SAGE. “That was the Stonewall riots for the gay rights movement.”
So forty years later? Damn. If I think back to 1971, I couldn't have imagined ANY of this. I mean, if I think back to 1986 (only twenty-seven years ago), at the heights of the AIDS epidemic, when the Supreme Court announced Bowers v Hardwick, I couldn't have imagined any of this. MAYBE ten years ago, with Lawrence v Texas, but then there was DOMA. Nevertheless, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, the District of Columbia, New York, Maine, Maryland and Washington State would recognize my marriage now, and we can serve openly in the military if we want to. Similarly, the Lilly Ledbetter Act goes a LONG way to ending the pay inequity which keeps women's rights from being the same as men's rights.
And, the best thing. An African-American president, associating the three events to acknowledge that the struggles of women, blacks and LGBT people, although different in the manner in which these struggles have played out, have all been for the same thing, civil rights. One BIG shehecheyanu coming up, and thank you, President Obama, for the acknowledgement.