6 New Books Honor the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall

Fifty years ago, the neighborhood around Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn erupted in protests after police carried out a violent raid on the bar, which had been targeted for being a haven for the city’s marginalized queer community—a place where some of its most marginalized, and often poorest, members were known to hang out. Trans people, drag queens, and gay men and women either too effeminate or too butch to pass as straight were among Stonewall’s clientele. On the night of June 28, 1969, it seems they’d had enough of being persecuted by police. The two days of riots that ensued are often considered the birthing pains of the modern movement for LGBTQ+ rights.

Debates have raged for decades about exactly what and who lit the spark that night. Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman, artist, and activist, has often been named as one of the first of those present to defy the police, as has Latina drag queen Sylvia Rivera, who was emotionally raw from the funeral of Judy Garland that morning, but invigorated by the sense of shared loss she encountered at Stonewall. These details matter, of course, but in a broader sense, the legacy of the Stonewall uprising is one of community, and of a moment in history when marginalized people stood up and declared that they’d had enough.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of uprising, these new books attempt to offer a comprehensive account of the events of that night—and the movement it inspired.

Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America, by Martin Duberman
Professor Martin Duberman isn’t only renowned for his works of historical analysis, he is also a gay activist with roots in the modern movement stretching back to the Stonewall era, making him an ideal choice to pen this comprehensive, one-volume history of the uprising. In order to bring focus to the complex and chaotic weeks and months surrounding the event, Duberman focuses on six diverse individuals—from the buttoned-up PhD Foster Gunnison, Jr. to the riotous Sylvia Rivera, a genderqueer Latina drag queen—offering a necessary reminder that the thousands of people involved in the events of those nights came from many different backgrounds. Duberman recreates the atmosphere of a wild and uncertain time through their shared stories, from the days leading up to Stonewall to the first gay pride march in 1970.

The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History, by Marc Stein
This new work from historian Marc Stein’s examines Stonewall from the perspective of those who lived through it, presenting a record of the events and the era through primary sources and contemporaneous reporting. With in-the-moment immediacy and without the benefit of hindsight, the 200 documents presented here offer an unusual look at the earliest days of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. The book draws not only first-person accounts, but items from the mainstream and queer press of the time, as well as personal letters, political fliers, court documents, song lyrics, and photos.

The Stonewall Reader, edited by New York Public Library with Edmund White
Drawing from the archives of the New York Public Library, this collection of primary sources covers the decade surrounding the Stonewall uprising, showing the early growth of what became the LGBTQ+ movement in the lead-up up to the riots, and, just as significantly, chronicles the heady days just following the events of late June, 1969, as new and established activists came together (and sometimes diverged) in an effort to figure out what the road forward would look like. Media accounts from the time are featured, but the real highlights are found in personal narratives, memoir excerpts, and testimonies that offer insight into the feelings of people who found themselves facing a hopeful but uncertain future.

We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation, by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown
The imagery of the movement for queer rights is indelible and essential. It was and is a movement of ideas, but also of powerful images: of drag queens and parades, rainbow flags and clever signs, of defiant kisses and clothing that doesn’t conform. This beautiful color hardcover presents a thoroughly researched, carefully curated collection of images inspired by the spirit of Stonewall, going backward and forward in time from that event to present a visual narrative of queer activism across a century. Though the images might be surprising to some (yes, there were out queer people before the ’60s), they are very real: often joyous, sometimes poignant, but always defiant.

The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets, by Gayle E. Pitman
For the 50th anniversary of Pride comes this new middle grade-level book about the Stonewall uprising, presenting the history of LGBTQ+ rights in the lead-up to, and in the aftermath of the riots, offering valuable background on the organizing that occurred in the wake of June 28. Pitman includes new interviews with witnesses, including a woman who was only ten at the time, but its clever format makes this unique: each chapter focuses on a particular object, from physical artifacts like a police sergeant’s bullhorn or the Stonewall Inn’s busted jukebox; to a slightly less tangible items such as a photographs, news articles, and maps. It’s a neat way to structure the story for young readers, providing an engaging view of the people and places of Stonewall.

What Was Stonewall?, by Nico Medina, Who HQ, and Jake Murray
For readers who are younger still, this new entry in the “What Was?” series provides a great introduction to not only to Stonewall itself, but of the movement surrounding the uprising, and its subsequent history—all the way to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage and beyond. Included are several color pages, a timeline, and sections offering explanations of common terms as well as the issues still faced by LGBTQ+ Americans. It also highlights suggestions for further reading and offers additional resources for kids who need help or more information. It is both a great introduction to the events of Stonewall and to the wider history of the LGBTQ+ movement.

Follow BNReads