Stonewall, As It Seemed Then: The Advocate Remembers Best

Carmen’s Team Pick:

When Hillary Clinton ran for President in 2008, I began to collect newspapers. Every paper on my campus with her on the cover. I would rip out interviews and clip small articles and shove them inside of fat editions of Sunday and Thursday papers about her campaign trail. I didn’t have anywhere to put them, not one of them, but I figured if history happened I’d have proof that I had believed in that. I would remember how it was to believe in it before it was real.

For that very reason, I want you to see this.

The Advocate recently opened their archives and went further back than most websites can go: back to print, back to black-and-white. Back to Stonewall and that one tiny moment that turned into a revolution.

June 28 and 29 are the anniversary of the history-making Stonewall riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The riots at the Stonewall  Inn on Christopher Street are known as the spark of the modern gay rights movement. While researching our archives for the 45th Anniversary issue, we came across this report, provided to The Advocate in the summer of 1969 by the New York Mattachine Society. The following article ran in the September 1969 issue of The Advocate.

The writing style makes you feel as if you’re reading a book or some piece of marvelous, brave fiction. It’s a story, not a news report – a tell-all of one of the most important events to the entire gay rights movement, and even more importantly, to the queer revolution at-large. This was a special moment, but The Advocate’s article didn’t know that yet, not fully. So instead we have the day-to-day: the police battling crowds, the passerbys shaking their heads, the ongoing struggle:

The next day, the Stonewall management sent in a crew to repair the premises, and found that the cops had taken all the money from the cigarette machine, the jukebox, the cash register, and the safe, and had even robbed the waiters’ tips!

Since they had been charged with selling liquor without a license, the club was reopened as a “free store,” open to all and with everything being given away, rather than sold.

A crowd filled the place and the street in front. Singing and chanting filled Sheridan Square Park, and the crowds grew quickly.

At first, the crowd was all gay, but as the weekend tourists poured into the area, they joined the crowds. They’d begin by asking what was happening. When they were told that homosexuals were protesting the closing of a gay club, they’d become very sympathetic, and stayed to watch or to join in.

One middle-aged lady with her husband told a cop that he should be ashamed of himself. “Don’t you know that these people have no place to go and need a place like that bar?” she shouted. (Several hours later, she and her husband with two other couples, were seen running with a large group of homosexuals from the night sticks brandished by the Tactical Police Force.)

But even if The Advocate couldn’t predict where Stonewall would take us; even if they couldn’t fathom how far we would come and still have to go decades after that one moment in time, one thing is clear: that even then we were insurmountable, we were filled with solidarity, we were ready to speak out and make noise and really get in and get dirty. Even then, we were remarkable.

The fat cop looked for all the world like a slave-owner surveying the plantation, and someone tossed a sack of wet garbage through the car window and right on his face. The bag broke and soggy coffee grounds dripped down the lined face, which never lost its “screw you” look.

Another police car came through Waverly Place, and stopped at the corner of Christopher. The occupants just sat there and glared at the crowd. Suddenly, a concrete block landed on the hood of the car, and the crowd drew back. Then, as one person, it surged forward and surrounded the car, beating on it with fists and dancing atop it. The cops radioed for help, and soon the crowd let the car pass.

Christopher Street, from Greenwich to Seventh Avenue, had become an almost solid mass of people — most of them gay. No traffic could pass, and even walking the few blocks on foot was next to impossible. One little old lady tried to get through, and many members of the crowd tried to help her. She brushed them away and continued her determined walk, trembling with fear and murmuring, “It must be the full moon, it must be the full moon.”

Avatar of Carmen

Carmen is the Deputy Straddleverse Editor and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle. She's mother to the most adorable dog on Earth and hates paying more than one dollar for a good slice of pizza. At times, she self-identifies as "the baddest bitch." You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr because it makes her feel good about herself when people do.

Carmen has written 563 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Stonewall Riots recently; it’s fascinating stuff. I’m really glad The Advocate did this, because I think it’s so important that we remember where this whole movement started, where we came from, and use that knowledge and energy to move us forward.

    And yes! The little old lady was hilarious!

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.