Pride Month and Blacks on Stamps
History of Pride
From the Library of Congress: “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan.
June Pride Month, an entire month dedicated to the uplifting of LGBTQIA+ voices, celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture, and the support of LGBTQIA+ rights. The Gay & Lesbian History on Stamps Club (GLHSC), APS Affiliate No. 205 and ATA Study Unit No. 458, has a comprehensive collection of LGBTQIA+ themed stamps available. The biographical sketches be- low, borrowed from the GLHSC website, are drawn from Wikipedia, Biog- raphy.com, Britannica.com, the Gay and Lesbian History on Stamps Journal, the Lambda Philatelic Journal, and various LGBTQIA+ websites. For more information, visit the Gay & Lesbian History on Stamps Club at glhsonline.org
Black LGBTQ on U.S. Stamps
George Washington Carver (Scott #953) Born into slavery, George Washington Carver (early 1860s-1943) promoted using rotations of various cash crops to overcome the depletion of soil by repeated plantings of cot- ton. Carver received his advanced education at Simpson College in Iowa and the Iowa State Agricultural Col- lege (now Iowa State University); he was the first Black student at the latter. In 1896, Booker T. Washington invited Carver to head Tuskegee Institute’s (now Tuskegee University) Agriculture Department. During his 47 years there, Carver taught generations of Black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency and trans- formed his department into a strong research center, earning the college national recognition. Never married, at age 70 Carver began a friendship and research partnership with the fellow scientist Austin W. Curtis, Jr., with the pair living together until Carver’s death, after which Curtis was fired from Tuskegee.
Ethel Waters (Scott #2851) Beginning a career in vaudeville as a pop and blues singer, Ethel Waters (1896-1977) switched later into movies and television. She was the first African-American to host her own television show, The Ethel Waters Show, broadcast on NBC in 1939. Water’s role in Pinky (1949) earned her a best supporting actress Academy Award nomination. Another first for a Black woman was a primetime Emmy Award nomination for an appearance in an episode of the tele- vision series Route 66 (1961). Waters married three times but had no children. She was bisexual, most notably having a relationship in the 1920s with dancer Ethel Williams (1891-1961); the two women gained the nickname of “Two Ethels.”
Bessie Smith (Scott #2854) Nicknamed the “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith (1894-1937) was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s. She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and was a major influence on fellow blues singers, as well as jazz vocalists. Smith’s lyrics appealed to a subculture within the African American working class and also incorpo- rated commentary on social issues like poverty, intra-racial conflict, and female sexuality, which were not widely accepted as appropriate expressions for African-American women. She married in 1923, but the stormy relationship ended after six years due to infidelity on both sides, including nu- merous female lovers for Bessie. Here untimely passing was due to an automobile accident while on the road; more than 10,000 persons passed by her casket at her funeral in Philadelphia
Billie Holiday (Scott #2856) Jazz singer Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959), had an almost three decade long career that strongly influenced jazz and pop singing. Although she lacked a formal music education, her vocal style was inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneering a new way of phrasing and tempo. She had mainstream success in the 1930s and 1940s, recording on mainstream labels. But her drug and alcohol abuse inevitably caught up with her, causing her voice to wither. She was openly bisexual, and many of her female relationships were with stage and film actresses. She died at age 44 from causes related to cirrhosis of the liver.
“Ma” Rainey (Scott #2859) The mother of blues, Gertrude Pridgitt, better known as “Ma” Rainey (1882 or 1886-1939), first appeared on stage in 1900. In 1904, she married song and dance man William “Pa” Rainey. She became known as “Ma,” and the couple began to tour with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels; later they formed their own group, Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Be- tween 1923 and 1928, she recorded more than 100 songs for Paramount. Despite her marriage, she had affairs with dancers in her shows throughout her career and was a frequent visitor to “buffet flats,” party houses where all forms of sexual expression were permitted. Most of her songs that men- tion sexuality refer to love affairs with men, but some of her lyrics contain references to lesbianism or bisexuality. Her career waned after the 1920s as her fan base could no longer afford to buy records.
Clara Ward (Scott #3218) The daughter of a controlling mother, Clara Mae Ward (1924-1972) achieved great artistic and commercial success as a gospel singer in the 1940s and 1950s. Her moth- er Gertrude formed a family singing group in 1931, consisting of herself, Clara and her older daugh- ter Willa. Clara eloped in 1941, but her mother forced her to tour with the group, resulting in a mis- carriage. This lone marriage lasted only one year. The group, known as The Ward Singers, began to tour nationally in 1943 and Clara’s lead-switching style, which allowed others in the group to im- provise and perform lead vocals, increased their popularity on the gospel circuit. Willa left in 1947 and was replaced with Marion Williams. Others singers were added and replaced over the ensuing years, with complaints of low pay being responsible for the turnover. In her biography of Clara, Willa describes Clara as explaining her occasional lesbian encounters as the sexual expression likely to escape her mother’s notice.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Scott(1915-1973) swagger and howling electric guitar is credited with inspiring rock legends like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. At age six, she and her mother began performing in a traveling evangel- ical troupe, with Rosetta developing fame as a musical prodigy. In 1938 she recorded four gospel songs for Decca which became instant hits. Her popularity continued to grow, with her performances going beyond the black and gospel audiences to encompass those favoring rhythm-and-blues and rock ‘n’ roll. In 1946 Tharpe invited Marie Knight to tour with her; speculation ensued in the gospel community that the twice-divorced Tharpe was maintaining a romantic and sexual relationship. In 1950, the two split and a year later she married her manager Russell Morrison in a Washington, D.C., baseball stadium where over 20,000 paying customers attended. As rock ‘n’ roll began to take off with young white singers, her career declined and in 1957 she began touring Europe, where she found new fans.
Malcolm X (Scott #3273) (1925-1965, born Malcolm Little, was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist involved in the civil rights movement. In 1946 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for larceny and breaking and entering. While there, he joined the Nation of Islam and became one of the organization’s most influential leaders after his parole. In the early 1960s he came disillusioned, made the pilgrimage to Mecca and became a Sunni Muslim. He also founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Less than a year later, he was assassinated in Washington Heights on the first day of National Brother- hood Week by three Nation of Islam adherents. Before his conversion to Islam, he bragged of earning money servicing ‘queers’. However, some biographers suggest his encounters with men were not all financially motivated. After converting to the Muslim faith, he apparently repressed any homosexual desires, marrying in 1958 and having six offspring.
Langston Hughes (Scott #3557) James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a lecturer and prolific writer, responsible for 16 books of poems, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of “editorial” and “documentary” fiction, 20 plays, children’s poetry, musicals, operas and much more. While his literary legacy is enormous and varied, he was closeted, though homosexuality nonetheless filters through in poems such as “Joy,” “Desire,” “Café: 3 A. M.,” “Waterfront Streets,” “Young Sailor,” “Trumpet Player,” “Tell Me,” and his book-length poem suite “Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951).”
Alvin Ailey (Scott #3841) (1931-1989) was an African-American choreographer who popularized modern dance and black participation in the art form. He did not become serious about dance until he was age 18, studying at the studio of Lester Norton in Hollywood, California. In 1953, he debuted in the school’s Revue Le Bal Caribe. Horton died later that year, and the inexperienced Ailey took over as artistic director. In the following year, he headed to New York and appeared in various productions there. Not finding this work satisfying, he formed his own group, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. Over the years, Ailey created 79 works for his dancers including his signature Revelations. The Alvin Ailey School he founded in 1969 continues his legacy, training about 3,500 dancers a year. He was closeted about his sexuality, dying of AIDS at the age of 58.
James Baldwin (Scott #3871) Novelist, playwright and activist James Arthur Baldwin (1924-1987) is one of the best known American-American writers of the 20th century, writing of the destructive power of love and brotherhood. His second novel, Giovanni’s Room, appeared in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement; it caused great controversy over its explicit homoerotic content. Baldwin had moved to Paris France eight years before publication of the novel and, in 1949, met and fell in love with a 17-year old runaway, Lucien Happsberger. Baldwin was devastated when Happsberger married three years later and had no known relationships thereafter. Baldwin returned to the U.S. in 1957, continuing to write and becoming involved in the civil rights movement. He moved back to France in the early 1970s and continued to live there until his passing. When asked about being gay, he replied “everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.”
Hattie McDaniel (Scott #3996) Born in Denver, Colorado, and the first African-American woman to sing on the radio in the United States, Hattie McDaniel (1893-1952) moved to Los Angeles and appeared in over 300 films. She was the first African American to win an Oscar, winning Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind (1939). She had four brief marriages and had a relationship with Ruby Goodwin.
Barbara Jordan (Scott #4565) Always silent about her sexuality, Barbara Charline Jordan (1936-1996) was the first African American elected to the Texas senate since reconstruction. A native of Houston, Texas, she also was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In the early 1970s, Jordan began to suffer from multiple sclerosis. Her companion for her last 20 years was Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist and occasional speechwriter whom Jordan met in the late 1960s on a camping trip.
Nella Larsen (Scott #5471) Nellallitea “Nella” Larson (1891-1964) was a mixed race nurse and librarian who wrote two novels, Quicksand, which is largely autobiographical, and Passing, an examination of racial identification and marriage that includes a lesbian subtext between protagonists, Claire and Irene. Identified as bisexual, Larson married in 1919, but by the late 1920s, the marriage was failing and a divorce was finalized in 1933. Suffering from depression after her ex-husband died and the generous alimony ended, she quit writing, abandoned her literary circles, and returned to her nursing career.
Alan Locke (Scott #5474) Writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts, Alain Leroy Locke (1885-1954) was in 1907 the first African American to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar and went on to be become chair of the department of philosophy at Howard University. A gay man, he may have supported other gay African Americans who were part of the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s.