This is part one of a two-part article. The second part will be published in the next print issue and online.
Black history is rich with people who were writers, activists, musicians, artists, scientists and many other types of professionals. Some names are familiar like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. With that being said, there are multiple current and past black leaders that aren’t as widely known.
Prism collaborated with the Black Culture League club, Queer People of Color Collective and the NAACP chapter at Rowan to highlight 14 black LGBTQIA+ leaders. Each sign contains one leader with a description of their history and impact on the world.
The signs are located at the LGBTQIA+ Center in the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution (SJICR), which is located at Hawthorn Hall.
Lil Nas X (1999-present)
Lil Nas is known for his country-rap single “Old Town Road,” which became popular internationally. Last June, he came out to the world as gay in a tweet when his career was on the rise. My favorite video has to be him performing “Old Town Road” in front of fifth-graders. Lil Nas X inspires people of all ages to be themselves.
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
Marsha P. Johnson was a central figure in the New York City’s gay liberation movement for nearly 25 years, according to CNN. She was a transgender activist, drag performer and sex worker who didn’t have much wealth when she moved out of her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Johnson played a key role after a police raided a New York gay bar in 1969. The protests lasted over six days. Her body was found in the Hudson River in 1992. To this day it is still unclear what happened, but Johnson is finally recognized for her impact on society.
Josephine Baker (1906-1975)
Josephine Baker was an American-born French entertainer, dancer and civil rights activist who was openly bisexual. One of her relationships included artist Frida Kahlo. Baker was the only official female speaker who walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington. In the U.S., May 20 is known as Josephine Baker Day.
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
Lorraine Hansberry, a civil rights activist, was best known for her play “A Raisin in the Sun,” which follows the story of a black American family living under racial segregation in Chicago. She was the youngest American to win a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. While writing for The Ladder magazine, she revealed herself as being a lesbian and had to use her initials due to fear of discrimination.
James Baldwin (1924-1987)
James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright, novelist and voice of the American Civil Rights movement. He was open about being gay and having relationships with men and women, according to the sign at the LGBTQIA+ Center. He believed human sexuality is more fluid and less binary. His short story “Sonny’s Blues” follows a black man trying to understand his brother’s drug addiction, arrest and recovery. Baldwin also made jazz music, which plays a part in his world of literary characters.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
Zora Neale Hurston wrote several novels, her most popular being “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” She was not only a writer, but also an anthropologist, filmmaker and a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. When she died, all of her books were out of print and she was buried in an unmarked grave. Several of her writings were burned. Hurston was almost forgotten until Alice Walker brought her back to the public consciousness, according to BBC.
Alice Walker (1944-present)
Alice Walker wrote short stories, novels, essays and poetry. “The Color Purple” won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the first ever awarded to an African-American woman. According to the sign at the LGBTQIA+ Center, “Walker’s introduction of the concept of ‘womanism’ was an influential corrective to the focus on white women understood by many under the term ‘feminism.’ Womanism is to feminism as purple is to lilac.” In other words, it’s a term for black feminists or feminists of color.
Alicia Garza (1981-present)
Alicia Garza is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. As a queer black woman, Garza’s leadership “challenges the misconception that only cisgender black men encounter police and state violence,” according to the movement’s website. She believes that in order to understand the violence in Black America, we need to look through a lens of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
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