Today on the blog, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots with a series of short essays by activists, writers, and scholars whose lives and work have been shaped by the events of June 1969 and their aftermath. This year, the scale of celebration and commemoration in New York is larger than ever — more than 4 million people are expected to attend this weekend’s festivities, and an estimated 115,000 people will be marching at Pride. In the city, more than two dozen different exhibitions that engage with LGBTQ art, history, and activism are on view, and two recently published anthologies, The Stonewall Reader and The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History, invite 2019 readers to interpret the events at Stonewall by revisiting sources from the time.
Alongside this wealth of celebration and commemoration, there is also tension and unrest. Social and legal gains for LGBTQ people have been numerous since 1969; the declassification of homosexuality and gender variance as mental illnesses, the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, and the growth in employment and housing protections for LGBTQ people are all the fruits of decades of activism. At the same time, these benefits have reached members of the community unevenly and have deepened existing rifts and fueled increasingly urgent debates about how to set priorities, how to allocate resources, and how to shape the discourse around LGBTQ rights.
The Stonewall Uprising and the way it is remembered is intrinsic to this tension. We variously mark the anniversary with celebration of how far we’ve come and with urgent reminders of how far we’ve yet to go. At the Gotham blog, we’ve chosen to embrace the debate and offer a cross-section of it here, rather than attempting to assert a single, settled interpretation of what Stonewall means in 2019. There are eight million stories in the naked city; today we offer nine of them. — Katie Uva, ed.
Reviewed by Emily Brooks
The Girl on the Velvet Swing is an engaging and fast-paced presentation of this story that will prove compelling to popular and academic audiences interested in New York City history or histories of the gilded age. Despite these strengths, Baatz’s analysis is weakened by a problematic interpretation of Nesbit’s narrative of her own assault, included in the book’s afterword, which may unsettle readers.
By Matt Kautz
However, the rehabilitative push was short-lived and movements to punish drug users and distributors culminated in the passage of the country’s harshest drug laws, the Rockefeller Drug Laws, in 1973. In large part, the criminalization of Black drug users and dealers in New York City drove this punitive turn. By looking at New York state’s response to heroin in Harlem during the 1960s, we can better understand how racialized narratives about drug addiction impact policy.
By Jarrod Shanahan
Inside the courtroom, New York Panther Abayama Katara recalled, uniformed police sought to provoke the Panthers by poking them with nightsticks. But Katara and his comrades “weren’t fools and were completely outnumbered.” Facing around 250 cops in and out of uniform, the Panthers attempted to leave in peace. As they filed out, however, an off-duty cop with a gun scarcely concealed in his right hip pocket shouted: “There’re the Panthers! Let’s get ‘em!” At this, the mob of cops attacked, throwing punches and kicks, and swinging blackjacks high above their heads and down onto the heads of the young activists and militants while maniacally chanting “Wallace for President,” and “White Tigers eat Black Panthers!”
By Jonathan S. Jones
(Podcast) Clarence Taylor's Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City
By Matthew Guariglia
As the rest of the world continues to ruminate on the 100-year anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, New Yorkers also must grapple with the lasting impact the “Great War” had on their city. In the years leading up to, during, and following the United States’ 1917 entrance into the war, “preparedness” became the watchword that signaled New York’s increasing awareness of its connection to the world and the conflicts happening beyond the harbor. From food rationing to drafting soldiers, preparedness and all it involved included a full-scale reorganization of American society, including the New York City Police Department.
Although for many New Yorkers, interactions with the police remained unchanged, the NYPD’s transition from the hulking 19th century bruisers of Gangs of New York to modern police officers was cemented by how preparedness and militarization effected the way NYPD officers acted, looked, and understood their jobs.
From 1915 through 1917, “preparedness” became a central tenet of Police Commissioner Arthur Woods’ department, whether it be for “fire, flood, cyclone, tidal wave, earthquake, or even foreign invasion.” Of course, preparing a police force for a foreign invasion also meant remaking it as a military force to be reckoned with.
By Andy Battle
On an average day at midcentury, New York City’s Garment District was a chaotic welter of sewing, schlepping, and schmoozing. But on May 12, 1949, the streets went silent for William Lurye, an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the 400,000-strong body representing workers in the women’s clothing trade. Three days earlier, Lurye had been shoved into in a telephone booth in the lobby of a building on West Thirty-Fifth Street that housed dozens of loft-style garment factories. There, two assailants had stabbed the thirty-seven year-old father of four in the neck with an icepick.
The attack was public and brazen. ILGWU chief David Dubinsky lost no time in proffering a theory for Lurye’s murder. The organizer, Dubinsky said, had been “struck down in cold blood by murderers in the hire of anti-union sweatshoppers who would rather spill blood than carry on production in the sane and civilized manner to which the majority of garment employers are committed.”
Gotham is a blog for independent and professional scholars of
New York City history
We invite submissions
Click below to follow us on social media
using any feed reader
View the material as a broadsheet
See our list of
Visitors looking for
"The Gotham Blotter"
will find it here,
revised as blog posts