Over the past two years, Charlotte’s LGBT community has seen a resurgence of interest in our local queer history. University of North Carolina-Charlotte staffer Joshua Burford, the catalyst behind the city’s new LGBT community archive hosted by the university’s library, has nearly single-handedly guided this renewed energy toward saving, preserving, cherishing and sharing our collective community’s past accomplishments — our trials, our tribulations and everything in between.
This renewed interest has resulted in an avalanche of newly discovered or rediscovered historical material. Much of this material made it into the city’s first comprehensive LGBT history timeline, documenting the life and times of LGBT Charlotteans from the 1940s through the present. The timeline was a key component of the Levine Museum of the New South’s exhibit last year featuring a wide variety of national LGBT historical milestones, another exhibit on Durham native Pauli Murray and a photo exhibit on transgender and gender non-conforming individuals — in and of itself an historic milestone in LGBT historical study in the Queen City.
I’ve watched and listened as Burford and others have made their rounds in the community — meeting with older leaders and younger community members. I’ve learned of new, invaluable tidbits of information that help to create a better, more complete narrative of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. qnotes, too, has contributed, donating our nearly 30-year archive and more than 30 years of archives for The Front Page, to the new community archive; we’re told it was the single-largest donation to the archive yet.
Some of the most treasured pieces of our archive, though, will undoubtedly be found in the papers and files from the late Don King, this publication’s first editor and a longtime community leader who began speaking out publicly for gay and lesbian equality in the mid 1970s. King, who passed away last October, preserved his personal records — letters, manuscripts and more — in near-pristine condition.
But King’s records at the new Charlotte LGBTQ Community Archive aren’t complete, and neither are several other pieces of our history. Some of King’s papers, along with those belonging to former community leader Dan Kirsch, are held by Duke University’s special collections — donated to the Durham university years ago, long before any interest in LGBT archiving had taken hold in Charlotte.
Duke University, along with neighbor University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, were among two of the earliest champions for LGBT history in North Carolina. Years ago, they took up the mantle and made it known they valued our community’s history and contributions and were seeking to save it for future generations. Our community — across the state — responded in kind, jumping at the opportunity to place their cherished personal papers in the safe-keeping of professionals who could ensure their survival.
Those at schools like Duke and Chapel Hill who managed to make such early strides for historical inclusion should be applauded and thanked, their hard work and dedication commended.
But it’s also time for our history to come home.
Local communities are best able to benefit from the collective wisdom of their historical archives only if those archives are readily available. Making a way for King’s, Kirsch’s and other leaders’ papers to “come home” to Charlotte — either through permanent loan or through the creation of archival copies — would ensure local community members have more accessible opportunities to come face-to-face with the history that has helped shape their city and community today.
There’s no doubt in my mind that most, if not all, archivists would agree — local history belongs to the locals who produced and shepherded it and who were responsible for the accomplishments recorded by it. The challenge here lies less in lack of desire or will and more likely in policy and procedure.
That’s why I’m happy to know that Burford and other archivists across the state and across the South are already talking, albeit informally, on how to make southern queer history more accessible to the people who made that history possible.
Our history has a home — right here in our own local community. And with the help of dedicated, committed archivists like Burford and those at institutions like Duke, I’m happy knowing our history will be in safe hands. Additionally, I hope that we’ll soon have a way to provide a hearty homecoming to the treasures which will continue to inform us and shape us into the future. : :