The Story of the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union
Allan Bérubé (1946-2007) was a community-based activist historian. He believed that history could be a tool to advance struggles for social justice. The illustrated lecture on the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCSU) that you are about to watch is very much representative of Bérubé's passion for history and social activism. The video links the images he presented with an audio recording of his talk at the First Canadian Lesbian and Gay Trade Union Conference, held in Ottawa in 1997.
Bérubé first came to LGBT history after reading Jonathan Ned Katz’s path-breaking book, Gay American History, soon after it was published in 1976. The book set him on a lifelong path of researching, writing, and presenting history to public audiences.
He initially studied the local history of San Francisco, where he was living at the time. Bérubé was a founder of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project which, almost forty years later, has grown into the GLBT Historical Society and the GLBT History Museum.
His first illustrated lecture, titled “Lesbian Masquerade,” told the stories of several gender-crossing individuals who lived in San Francisco in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Presented to enthusiastic audiences in California and on the East Coast, and later developed as a video, today it would be recognized as a pioneering piece of transgender history.
Because of his visibility as someone doing LGBT historical research, which was very unusual in those years, people came to Bérubé with their stories and with their collections of historical documents. When someone provided him with a large cache of letters written by a group of gay GIs during World War II, it launched Bérubé on the project that became Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II (1990). As with his earlier work, he also presented it widely as an illustrated lecture and, in the process, helped to create networks of older veterans prepared to come out and organize against the military policies that excluded LGBT individuals from service. His historical knowledge put him in the middle of the “gays-in-the-military” debate that erupted in 1993.
The work on World War II also led him to the MCSU, the subject of “No Red-Baiting, No Race-Baiting, No Queen-Baiting.” Some of the men who came to his lectures on World War II and whom he later interviewed told him about another experience from those years: their work aboard cruise liners in the 1930s and 1940s. They described to Bérubé a truth-stranger-than-fiction tale of a labor union that in the 1930s was left-wing, multi-racial, and gay-friendly. The history of the MCSU became the project that he pursued for the rest of his life, as he attempted, through both oral histories and deep archival and documentary research, to recover the forgotten story of this labor union and the struggles of its members for respect.
Although he died without completing a draft of the book manuscript, Bérubé delivered his illustrated lecture on the MCSU dozens of times, not only to LGBT community audiences and on campuses, but also to audiences of trade union members and activists. He presented the rich visuals with two slide projectors working in tandem, pushing the technology of the time to accommodate the rapid-fire illustrations. In this ninety-minute version, delivered in Canada, Bérubé made the decision to shift from English to French for a short stretch early on in the presentation. His own French-Canadian ancestry was important to him, as were the struggles of French Canadians to preserve their language and culture in a larger Anglo-Canadian nation.
If “No Red-Baiting, No Race-Baiting, and No-Queen Baiting” excites you in the ways we hope it will, you can experience more of Allan Bérubé's work, both on the MCSU and on other historical and political topics, in the collection of his essays, My Desire for History: Essays on Gay, Community, and Labor History (2011).
©2016, Produced by Estelle Freedman and John D'Emilio
Associate Producer Annelise Heinz
(Closed Captioning Available)