Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968

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This is the story of Southern gays and lesbians in the twenty-year span between the end of World War II and the Stonewall Riot that sparked widespread gay rights consciousness. Across the United States, this was an era of courting and cocktail parties, Johnny Mathis and Jack Kerouac, with a Southern culture aptly depicted by Tennessee Williams-genteel attitudes and behavior covering, in a thin veneer, baser passions just barely contained. But this veneer was developing cracks that would soon divide society in ...

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Overview

This is the story of Southern gays and lesbians in the twenty-year span between the end of World War II and the Stonewall Riot that sparked widespread gay rights consciousness. Across the United States, this was an era of courting and cocktail parties, Johnny Mathis and Jack Kerouac, with a Southern culture aptly depicted by Tennessee Williams-genteel attitudes and behavior covering, in a thin veneer, baser passions just barely contained. But this veneer was developing cracks that would soon divide society in hotly contested battles over race, sexuality, and gender.In Lonely Hunters, James Sears, noted gay writer, academic, and media commentator, has compiled the real stories of gay men and lesbians who were raised in the social hierarchy of the South and who recall their coming of age when the status quo of American society as a whole was on the cusp of great upheaval. Most notable, of course, was the battle being waged for the civil rights of blacks, but another, less visible battle was also taking place-that of cultivating gay identities, peer groups, and a subculture no longer hidden by Southern convention. Though maintaining social stature was important for many gay men and women at the time, accomplished by hiding their identities through so-called Boston marriages and the common arrangement of gay couples living in duplexes and posing as heterosexual partners, others had come out of the closet and were beginning to work for gay rights. It is the real lived experiences of participants in these pivotal social transitions that are collected here. The people and stories collected here are the parents of today's gay rights movement, and the message is clear-gays and lesbians, and the rest of us, have come a very long way.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Sears, a noted gay writer and media commentator, has complied real stories of gay men and lesbians who were raised in the social hierarchy of the South and who recall their coming of age when the status quo of American society was on the cusp of great upheaval. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A groundbreaking history of postWW II, pre-Stonewall gay and lesbian life in the American South.

Using diaries, letters, newspapers, subpoenaed testimony, court and legislative documents, and, most powerfully, personal interviews, historian Sears (Growing Up Gay in the South, not reviewed) tells a story long overlooked by gay and southern historians alike. It is well-documented and compellingly presented with great emotional range, describing not only the brutal bar raids and cloistered lives of southern homosexuals but also the fabulously coat-tailed club-goers and deeply bonded communities. The chapter on Miami, for instance, decribes that city's famous gay beaches, as well as its government-organized witch hunts, in which careers were ruined and gays were pressured to name names. Some of the personal stories are even stranger than southern fiction: Gordon Langley Hall—a British émigré (whose father was Vida Sackville-West's chauffeur), prominent Charleston, S.C., socialite, and biographer of Lady Bird Johnson—was, after a 1968 sex-change operation, welcomed into the Ladies of the Confederacy as Dawn Pepita Hall—until she married a black man. Sears's book is consistently engaging yet never historically simplistic—the complex themes of race, class, regional identity, generation, and sexuality are all properly treated as vital parts of the story. Sears interweaves individuals' stories with narratives of political events that lend them broader context, and he's just as careful to humanize social developments by describing real people's lives. Though churches are given short shrift, a foreword assures us that the author intends to address it more substantively in future work.

A fine contribution to both southern history and gay history that shouldn't be overlooked by enthusiasts of either field.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813324753
  • Publisher: Westview Press
  • Publication date: 8/13/1998
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.86 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Purging Perverts in Paradise: The 22nd Street Beach, Coupon-Clippers, and the Tongueston Trio 12
2 Dark Nights of the Soul: Charley Johns and the Chicken Ranch 48
3 Ferreting Out the Lesbian Menace: The Purple Pamphlet and the Deans of Women 85
4 The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: The City on the Hill Struggles with Civil Rights and Civilities 108
5 Dawn Arises in Aristocratic Charleston: The Gordon Langley Hall Affair 163
6 The Blue Fairy and the Making of a New Activist Generation 185
7 The Mississippi of the Homosexual and the Politics of Dialectics 212
Afterword: A Conversation with Barbara Gittings 258
Notes 263
Sources 284
About the Book and Author 305
Index 306
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