Carl Wittman (1943 - 1986)
"Brilliant, just brilliant” is what an activist called Carl Wittman's civil rights actions in Chester, PA. Protesting segregation there in 1964, he and other Swarthmore College students were jailed. The blond-haired son of communist parents was again jailed while participating in anti-segregation sit-ins at the Dorset Theater in Cambridge on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1963. That year he joined the national council of Students for a Democratic Society.
With SDS activist Tom Hayden he wrote an influential paper. Called An Interracial Movement of the Poor, it was, as it states, “working notes, not a 'blueprint,''' for people “sharing the concern with racial justice and an end to poverty.” The authors assert that undoing poverty involves “cooperative practice,” instead of “elite[s] waiting for 'the masses.'” Needed is a redistribution of “wealth and power” and making “problems of poverty visible, dramatic and legitimate to work on.” The two SDS leaders recommended encouraging “the poor to further develop a consciousness of their social, rather than individual, plight, and even create the basis for class disgust with the men in Washington.”
About an SDS project in Newark, New Jersey, Wittman, at the time a closeted gay man, remembered that Hayden “confidently announced that there was to be no homosexuality or marijuana on our community organizing project, and then proceeded to borrow my room to bed down with his latest woman.” It was not the only instance of anti-gay bigotry in the '60s radical “New Left.” Former SDS national secretary, bisexual Greg Calvert recalled, “I was defamed and discredited by my opponents . . . including a vicious and disgusting gay-baiting campaign . . . People talk about sexism—they should talk about homophobia in the movement.”
After leaving the SDS in the mid-1960s, Wittman headed west, participating in anti-war activities along the coast and settling in San Francisco. During that period he divorced his wife, civil rights and feminist activist Mimi Feingold. (In hippie-style nuptials, they had wed in 1966 on the New Jersey farm of radical pacifist David Dellinger.)
In May 1969, he finalized an essay whose drafts he had been circulating among friends. Considered a seminal document of gay liberation, it was called “Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto.” “Like refugees,” he writes, we homosexuals have fled “blackmailing cops” who beat us, families who “disowned or 'tolerated' us,” and “small towns where to be ourselves would endanger our jobs and any hope of a decent life.” The time is now to “free ourselves.” “We are children of straight society,” but we must “stop mimicking straights.” Rather than “oppressive” “traditional marriage,” for example, he urges us to “define for ourselves a new pluralistic, rolefree [sic] social structure . . . instead of measuring our relationship in comparison to straight ones, with straight values.” On coalition building he contends, “But we know we are radical in that we know the system that we're under now is a direct source of oppression, and it's not a question of getting our share of the pie. The pie is rotten.” “We've been playing an act for a long time, so we're consummate actors” he concludes, “Now we can begin to be, and it'll be a good show!”
While living in the West, Wittman became involved in RFD, a "magazine for rural gays," first published in 1974.  About the journal, Don Engstrom, a "serious art and SDS person," and one of the men who began the publication, stated that "original RFD'ers thought it was really important to build culture," it was "never about isolationism." Carl, he remarked, "was the first of us to start talking about how politics was truly about creating culture versus subverting culture."
For the Autumn 1975 issue of the magazine Wittman wrote an article titled "Shit" in which he connected the personal—via a natural by-product of human consumption—to a larger benefit. In the piece he immediately poses the question, "Whaddaya do with the shit?," and begins a response by noting the adverse social effects of using "asshole" and "shit" as "sex negative" epithets. Continuing on he acknowledges something "quite central to [in his words] my consciousness as a faggot." That is, "enjoying that part of my body, not feeling so alienated or disgusted by the shit which passes through it; and having those sphincters relaxed so that I'm open to radically different solutions to our problem." From there he advocates and explores ways to "return the nutrients ["waste matter, including shit"] to the soil," particularly "where we are growing food." Because, by "return[ing] to that very soil much of what was taken out," "we can begin to live not as a parasite on the earth but as a part of the whole."
Wittman's social activism remained multi-faceted. Moving to the southeast, in North Carolina he co-founded the Durham Lesbian and Gay Health Project. As well, recognizing that people must be "confident that they have some control over the decisions which affect their lives,” he co-led Citizens for a Safer East Durham in their successful drive to close down a toxic chemical company. Additionally, as a believer in the “transcendent importance of art in social change,” he wrote about and taught gender-free English and Scottish country dance.
In his manual on that dance style, he stated: “We will dance as an ever changing stream of faces, and groups will come together as a community rather than breaking up into cliques. No wall-flowers, no most-populars, no competition.” “And it worked,” a friend remembered about it, “mixing up dykes and fags, hets and straights, men and women in constantly shifting patterns, and it didn't really matter who was what.”
Doing “final work on the dance book” and saying “the most essential goodbyes,” recalled that same friend in a poignant newsletter article of farewell, Carl then decided to take his own life. He had suffered from AIDS complications and died in 1986 at home surrounded by loved ones.
1. Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS: The Rise and Development of the Students for a Democratic Society (New York: Vintage, 1973), 68, PDF, Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/SdsTheRiseAndDevelopmentOfTheStudentsForADemocraticSociety.
2. Wesley C. Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America (N.p.: University of North Carolina, 2007), 124, http://books.google.com/books?id=jtxkwH3PosgC&pg=PA134&lpg=PA134&dq=carl+wittman+chester&source=bl&ots=dOhBOINTr3&sig=--IL1Z_ADHTzZHVaooTtrWKoFhg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=METSUOycCOmy0QHyrICgCA&ved=0CEcQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=wittman&f=false.
3. Charles Shively, “Wittman, Carl (1943–1986),” in Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, ed. George E. Haggerty (New York: Garland, 2000), 1469, http://books.google.com/books?id=406CCTn4AAQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=gay+histories+haggerty&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6VLYUJ3HMo6w0AHFyoC4Cw&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=wittman&f=false.
4. Tom Hayden and Carl Wittman, An Interracial Movement of the Poor (Distributed by Students for a Democratic Society, New York, and its Economic Research and Action Project, Ann Arbor, n.d.), 22.
5. Hayden, 26.
6. Hayden. 26.
7. Hayden, 26.
8. Shively, 1469.
9. Vicki L. Eaklor, Queer America: A GLBT History of the 20th Century (Westport: Greenwood, 2008), 15, http://books.google.com/books?id=qJZdHuZ0aM0C&pg=PA115&lpg=PA115&dq=greg+calvert+bisexual&source=bl&ots=fFEMcgNvit&sig=gxKRDgTPsT49aMf2JwGF0hqkoNM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wBrWUMTLE8zK0AHnn4DACQ&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=greg%20calvert%20bisexual&f=false.
10. Tom Wells, The War Within: America's Battle over Vietnam (Lincoln: iUniverse, 2005), 216, http://books.google.com/books?id=gR8iHRUaOsIC&pg=PA216&lpg=PA216&dq=greg+calvert+homophobia&source=bl&ots=MjuE-qaw4s&sig=D0DJM1yaZpmr6ZDRBCiGi8Fm92g&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QkfSUNPVH4XB0AHeq4GAAw&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=greg%20calvert%20homophobia&f=true.
11. “Biography/History,” Mirium Feingold Papers, 1960--1967, Wisconsin Historical Society, http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=wiarchives;cc=wiarchives;view=text;rgn=main;didno=uw-whs-mss00859.
12. D.E. Mungello, “A Spirit of the 60's,” “Originally published in: The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 15.3 (May-June 2008): p 20,” http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/BIB/mungello01.htm.
13. Mungello, n.p.
14. Shively, 1469.
15. Carl Wittman, “A Gay Manifesto,” Liberation, February 1970, 19.
16. “Manifesto,” 24.
17. “Manifesto,” 20.
18. “Manifesto,” 20.
19. “Manifesto,” 24
20. “Manifesto,” 24.
21. James T. Sears, Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South (New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 2001), 145.
22. Sears, 146.
23. Sears, 145.
24. Sears, 146.
25. "Shit," RFD, Autumn 1975, 28.
26. "Shit," 28.
27. "Shit," 28.
28. "Shit," 29.
29. "Shit," 29.
30. Shively, 1470.
31. Jennifer Strom, “Paving the Way: How Behind-the-Scenes Lobbying Allows Big-Money Interests Like the Asphalt Industry to Steamroll Citizens,” Indy Week: Raleigh-Cary/Durham-Chapel Hill, February 20, 2002, http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/paving-the-way/Content?oid=1185816.
32. Shively, 1470.
33. Chris Ricciotti, “Carl Wittman: The Development of Gender-Free English and Scottish Country Dancing,” in Welcome to Gender-Free Dancing: A Historical Perspective (2011), 21, PDF, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDsQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Flcfd.org%2FGF%2520Historical%2520Manual.pdf&ei=YADWUKz2N-XD0QGQkYCICg&usg=AFQjCNE78GhK6SH7t0CxmvYZ_ABlp0Ks_Q&sig2=zQkc-zoGbEP-KzO25gKhUw&bvm=bv.1355534169,d.dmQ.
34. Mab Segrest, “Beginnings of a Farewell,” Lambda: Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association Newsletter, April/May 1986, 5, PDF, http://www.unc.edu/glbtsa/lambda/archives/1986/aprilmay.pdf.
35. Segrest, 5.
36. Segrest, 5.
37. Liz Highleyman, “Past Out: Who Was Carl Wittman,” Seattle Gay News, May 5, 2006, http://www.sgn.org/sgnnews34_18/page30.cfm.
38. Hogan, 125.
39. Peter Miller, ed.-in-chief, 1963 Halcyon (Swarthmore College, 1963), 55.
40. Darwin H. Stapleton and Donna Heckman Stapleton, Dignity, Discourse, and Destiny: The Life of Courtney C. Smith (Cranbury: Associated University, 2004), 228, http://books.google.com/books?id=q6TOgy0wAKMC&pg=PA228&lpg=PA228&dq=carl+wittman+editor+of+phoenix&source=bl&ots=b5VUWf_TMp&sig=YK3Mdv7cLUdPvYMUwBPwtzK5CRo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lZN-UsKFCurksATZ34HIDg&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=carl%20wittman%20editor%20of%20phoenix&f=false.
41. Hayden, .
42. Hayden, .
43. Carl Wittman, "Seminar on Marxism" (New York: Students for a Democratic Society, n.d.), front cover.
44. "Seminar," 1.
45. Jill Hamberg, with Paul Booth, Mimi Feingold, and Carl Wittman, Where It's At: a Research Guide for Community Organizing (Boston: New England Free Press, 1967), 4.
46. Hamberg, 5.
47. Hamberg, 5.
48. Hamberg, 3.
49. Greg Calvert and Carl Davidson, In White America--SDS and Radical Consciousness (Ann Arbor: Radical Education Project, n.d.), front cover.
50. Calvert, 1.
51. Calvert, 4.
52. Calvert, 1.
53. Calvert, 1.
54. Sukie de la Croix, "Random Events from 1970," Gay History: Chicago Whispers, Windy City Times, April 2, 2003, http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/ARTICLE.php?AID=3544.
55. Carl Wittman, "A Gay Manifesto," Chicago Seed, "Vol. 5 No. 2" (n.d.), [16-17], 20.
56. Sears, 146.
57. Sears, 146.
58. Sears, 147.
59. "Raving Flamers' Diary," RFD, Autumn 1975, .
60. Sears, 146.