Anita Cornwell (born 1923), Interviewed October 6, 1993
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2017. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Anita Cornwell in her home in Powelton Village, Philadelphia, in October 1993. I contacted her because I knew about her 1983 Naiad Press book Black Lesbian in White America and I knew she had been active in Radicalesbians Philadelphia. I think Sharon Owens, an African American lesbian who had lived in the same collective house in West Philadelphia that I did when I first moved to Philadelphia in 1989, may have supplied me with contact information for her. I exchanged letters with her in 1998, as I prepared my book City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves for publication, and again in 2000, after the book was published. In the latter, she wrote, “Dear Marc, City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves came about two weeks ago, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve been enjoying it. I think it is quite a book, and I shudder to think about all the work you put into it. But, believe me, it was worth it! The book has brought back so many old memories and people that I haven’t seen or heard of in decades. I know it’s perhaps too early to ask, but I can’t imagine that you won’t be starting on another book in the not too distant future. At least I certainly hope so. Oh yes, I also received a copy of the book via Naiad Press, which I gave to a very dear friend who appreciated it very much. Take care and good luck. Yours, Anita.”
In the last few years, I have occasionally heard reports that Cornwell was in ill health. Most recently, on a conference call for the advisory board of the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at the Philadelphia LGBT community center, it was reported that some of Cornwell’s papers had been donated to the archives and that arrangements for the donation were being coordinated with Cornwell’s guardian.
Date of Birth: 23 September 1923
Place of Birth: Greenwood, South Carolina
Place of Mother's Birth: Anderson, South Carolina
Mother's Occupation: Blue Collar Work
Place of Father's Birth: Mississippi
Father's Occupation: Mechanic
Race/Ethnicity: African American
Religious Background: Baptist
Class Background: Working Class
1923-39: Greenwood and Aiken, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina
1939-42: Washington, D.C.; New York, New York; and Yeadon, Pennsylvania
1942: Darby, Pennsylvania
1942-43: 41st and Baring Street, West Philadelphia
1943-48: South Philadelphia
1948-49: Washington, D.C.
1949-51: 316 N. 62nd St., West Philadelphia
1951-53: N. Broad St., North Philadelphia
1953-55: 3220 Osage Ave., West Philadelphia
1955-57: 1220 N. Broad St., North Philadelphia
1957-58: 4633 Sansom Street, West Philadelphia
1958-71: 1220 N. Broad Street, North Philadelphia
1971-93: 3220 Osage Ave., West Philadelphia
1942-58: Typist and Cataloger, Air Corp and Signal Corp.
1958-60: Case Worker, Department of Public Assistance
Marc Stein Interview with Anita Cornwell, 6 October 1993. Transcribed by Marc Stein.
MS: This is Marc Stein and I'm interviewing Anita Cornwell on October 6, 1993, in her home in Powelton Village. And I know we talked a little bit about your early years. I know you were born in September 1923 in South Carolina. And I was just hoping you could say a little bit about what kind of family you came from and what kind of influences you were brought up with.
AC: Well my parents actually separated before I was born. And I was born in my grandmother's house in the South, in Greenwood. And we lived there until I guess I was about seven and then we moved. Well you know how it is sometimes with two women in the house and they didn't get along or something. So then we moved to a place that wasn't as nice as where my grandmother lived, because she owned her own house. And of course, like I said, it was very difficult for Black people in the South during that time. I don't whether it was worse for Black women or Black men. I guess it was just terrible for everybody. Also, the Depression hadn't started then, but somebody said “Black people always have depression.” I tend to agree with that. So anyway, we made do as well as possible, but it was very difficult. My mother was young. My brother was born when she was eighteen and I was born when she was twenty. And of course when I was twenty, I’m still messing around in school or stuff like that. But it was very difficult for all of us at that time.
MS: There were the two of you, your brother and you? Were there other brothers and sisters.
AC: Just my brother.
MS: And so it was pretty impoverished, would you say?
AC: Yes. I mean in a small town like that in the South, about the only thing you could be was maybe like a preacher or a schoolteacher. And of course they didn't have that many schools because it was a small town. And I think there was one Black doctor and, like I said, a few schoolteachers. What else was there to do? So you did menial work. And it's a wonder we didn't starve to death, frankly.
MS: Did you ever think back later on that there may have been some lesbians or gay men who were in your hometown who you met when you were a child?
AC: Oh no. See you have no idea what a small southern town is like. This is just a surmise. I just would surmise that either there weren't any or they didn't know they were that way. See I guess to some extent it was sort of like another century. No seriously. Small towns: I can't stand small towns, especially not small southern towns.
MS: So you didn't know anything about homosexuality while you were living in the South.
AC: Oh my goodness no.
MS: You never heard about it or no one talked about it. It didn't come up in church?
AC: Are you kidding? No indeed. The only thing I remember these Black preachers shouting about in church was about these women in lipstick and stuff like that, which is ridiculous. Here we are being lynched and about to starve to death and they're talking about women and what's that song, "Store Bought Hair." Crap like that. No never.
MS: So you moved up north, let’s see remind me, in the 30s?
AC: Shortly before I was sixteen.
MS: So in the late '30s, right?
AC: Right, 1939, the World's Fair. They celebrated the 50th anniversary in '89 or something. Yeah, I guess it was 1989. And I didn't realize: fifty years. Jesus. Why don't you put your coat around?
MS: Oh no, I'm fine, I'm fine. I remember we were talking about this before. You lived in D.C., in New York, and in the suburbs in Pennsylvania, before you moved into the city of Philadelphia, right?
MS: And you said you went to a lot of different high schools, right? And do you remember some of your first memories of Philadelphia, when you first saw the city, what it was like to see a big city?
AC: Well see remember I saw New York before I saw Philadelphia. See Charlotte at the time was a small city. In fact I just checked the population of the city. My cousin that lives out in Yeadon still, she belongs to this club. And they had a conference or something in Charlotte this past summer. And actually, believe it or not, this is pure coincidence. I guess it was Adams Marks Hotel or something. I said, “Where is it?” She says, “500 McDowell Street.” I said, “What?” That's where my mother and I lived when we left Aiken and we moved to Charlotte. We lived at 325 South McDowell Street. This is probably interesting, course it's nothing about gay folk. Actually I think there was a historical figure at the time called Bishop Grace. We called him Daddy Grace. And see we stopped at this tourist home. And Daddy Grace lived right across the street. And he had this good-looking chauffeur. And this is just a surmise now: I think that guy was gay. And Daddy Grace might have been, too, because he had this long hair. At the time nobody was wearing long hair. Course at the time I didn't know what I was exactly, but I used to enjoy looking at him. And I used to sit there and read the paper and watch him watch the cars go by. And then of course we couldn't stay there because the rent was high, so my mother got a room two blocks down the way, 525 South McDowell Street. And that's the same block where the Adams Marks Hotel is, where my cousin was this past summer.
MS: That is a coincidence. I know that you wrote in your book Black Lesbian in White America that you decided later on that lesbians were born and not made. And I'm wondering: do you have memories of your teenage years or your childhood where you can look back and say that you knew at the time that you were different somehow sexually?
AC: Let me think now.
MS: Or when did you first start to think that you might be different from other girls?
AC: I guess actually it probably was when I was in high school, but I didn't think of it that way. I don't think I thought of it that way until I was in college.
MS: What did you think in high school?
AC: Well the thing about my being born in a small southern town and being Black, I guess my orientation, I'll say, was different from, say, if I had been born in the city. I remember in the women's movement, someone was saying how the boys treated them as children. And of course that shocked me really, because I guess being a small group, well you didn't have anybody much to play with. How are you going to be mean to somebody? Who are you going to play with? Naturally children fight, but it wasn't that sort of thing. Also to some extent, I guess especially Black women of my generation, I think we just were more, what's the word I want to use, I'll use the word assertive, but maybe that's not quite what I want. In other words, I would never think that somebody would pick on me. I don't care who they were. My mother brought my brother and me up to never start a fight, but if somebody hits you, you hit them back if you have to run. And I mean that's my philosophy to this day. This business of turning the other cheek, I mean that's got to go. I guess my point was I guess that we just used to play with everybody because there weren't that many people to play with.
MS: Right, right.
AC: So like I said, I guess the point I was trying to make is that I considered boys like playmates. Even when we got older, I enjoyed their company, but I also enjoyed being with women. I think to some extent that's the way Black women are. I remember once I was in the Free University at Penn, when they had those free universities. Let me say this. I hope I'm not digressing too much, but I remember in '71, just before I moved back here, I joined the Women's Center out at, what's the name of the street?
AC: Chester Avenue.
AC: And I remember they had this sort of area-wide meeting. And of course there were about two or three Black women, maybe one or two. And everybody else was white. And I looked around and they were snarling at each other, which startled me because I know they didn’t know each other. See Black women, we get together and we’re having fun. And here were all these white women and they're snarling at each other. I said, “What's going on here.” And see it wasn't until then that I realized that a lot of women didn't like each other. See Black women liked each other, because I guess that's all we had.
MS: I see.
AC: So one day I'm in this class, and I've forgotten what somebody said, so that's when I brought this business up. I said it seemed to me that white women a lot of times don't like each other. And I said the same thing, pointed out what I just said to you about it, and so I was waiting to see what people said. I was the only Black person in the class, so I'm waiting to see what they're going to say. So nobody said anything. I thought they were going to argue with me. And so finally, there was this woman. I call everybody young, but they were all young at this time. I think I was about forty-six or -seven or something and everybody else was in their twenties practically. So this young woman, I think she was about twenty-five, said, “Yeah!” She was in some kind of counselling where there were a lot of Black women. She said, “Yeah, they like each other, they help each other.” And she seemed so surprised. I mean the opposite surprises me. I think to some extent, of course I'm not too sure about this, but I still don't think it's as much the young Black women not liking each other. It’s the white women, to some extent. I don't know what it is. Of course you probably know more about it than I do.
MS: I don't know. Well let me ask you this. Do you remember the first lesbian that you ever met?
AC: I guess it was a woman I wrote about in the book.
MS: Meaning Alda? At work?
AC: No, it was the one I called Zelmar.
MS: Zelmar, right.
AC: Right, right.
MS: Could you tell me about that? When did you meet her? The year is not in the book and I was wondering actually when you met her.
AC: Remember I told you about the house on 62nd Street? See while I was down in Washington, D.C., it was a three-story house. And my mother and brother and his wife and two children, they lived on the first two floors. And then the third floor they rented out to a couple. And when that couple moved, Zelmar moved in. See at the time, I didn't want to say precisely where, because that was twenty years ago when I first started writing my autobiography or autobiographical essays. And at that time, of course you have to always be careful when you’re using, what shall I say, just plain old everyday people. You have to respect their privacy. See that's why when you read these autobiographies or biographies, you've got all these famous names there, but famous names are not going to sue you.
AC: Of course to some extent it's name dropping also, but still it's protection, too. You ever notice that they're very vague about these other people, unless maybe they're family members? Have you ever noticed that?
AC: You have to be, unless you've got permission.
MS: So you were living at 62nd and Vine from 1949 to 1951. So that's when you met Zelmar?
AC: Exactly, exactly. Like I said, she moved there after that other couple left.
MS: And how did you two become involved?
AC: Well it's in the book.
MS: I don't think you tell the story.
AC: I wrote it down somewhere. I'll send you a copy of that, because honest to goodness, I have a pile. Like I said, I was writing those things so long and at various times. Are you a writer? Do you write?
MS: A little bit, yeah.
AC: You have all these versions. And I have versions of that Zelmar thing about that high.
MS: Well if you're willing to let me look at that, I'd be very interested.
AC: I'll send you a copy. You give me your address. I'll send you a copy.
MS: That would be great.
AC: Actually, maybe I'll go to the bathroom. I'm cold. Aren't you cold?
MS: I'm O.K.
AC: I'll tell you what, I'll stand up and walk around.
MS: I know you told the story of going to the bar with her. She wanted to go to 58th Street.
AC: Yeah, but that's not the....
MS: That's not how you met her, though, right. That's why I was asking.
AC: I don't know why I left it out. I guess I was so sick and tired of writing about it. I'm telling you. O.K., I'll get you a copy of that.
MS: Well we've gotten straightened out the first lesbian you met. You said it was Zelmar. And now I'm wondering if you can tell me about the first gay man that you ever met. You remember that?
AC: Let's see. I'm not sure that she was the actual first one. Anyway, she's the first one I knew. Sometimes things will come back to me, so if something comes to me, you leave me your address.
AC: And I'll drop you a note or something. As far as gay men are concerned, see I never knew many gay men.
MS: So you didn't meet them at any of the parties that you went to in the '50s.
MS: So it was mostly Black women socializing with one another at the parties.
MS: There weren't very many gay men ever there?
MS: How do you think things were between Black lesbians and Black gay men?
AC: Well just like everything else, like I told you. We're so few, we're friends. See I met Zelmar, like I said, I think it was in November of '51.
AC: And she moved into our place soon thereafter, moved into the apartment upstairs. See her husband, he was in the service. He was a career soldier. That was around the Korean War time. I forgot when the Korean War ended.
AC: '53? He was overseas at the time. And eventually he came home and was stationed at Fort Dix. But like I said, that was in '51. And when we moved on Sansom Street, Alda and I, that's the first time I met more than one gay woman at a time.
MS: When you started going to parties, right?
AC: Well actually, when I lived at North Tower, Flamingo, like I said every time I turned around they changed the name. They changed it to Ivan Hall in North Tower. Now it's called the Regency, I think. Every time I pass by, it's got a new name. See we never did finish with the jobs. Like I said, I met Alda when I worked for the Signal Corp. And I resigned. Actually the problem was I wanted to be writing, which I didn't exactly realize. They were boring jobs anyway, but I went to work for the city. And I met this woman who lived in the same building. I can't quite remember where. I think she lived on a different floor or something. Anyway, like I said, when Alda and I lived on Sansom Street, she went to this party, just a couple of blocks down. I was sick at that time. And it was one of those parties of gay women. And that's when we used to call ourselves gay. See I first heard the word gay applied to women, not men.
MS: I see.
AC: I guess that's why I'm not like most lesbians who have a fit if you call them gay. Of course as a writer, I feel free to use both terms. But anyway, amongst those women was Doris. That was her name. We worked together for the city. We were in the same department, but not the same division. And also she lived in the same building I did at one time. And she said, “Yeah, I used to look at you and try to give you the eye.” So I probably, like you said, ran into a lot of people not knowing what was what.
MS: You didn’t know.
AC: And her lover at the time worked down in the Signal Corp where we used to work. Like I said, I had gone to work for the city. But anyway, that was the first time I met more than one at a time. See Zelmar, I made that name up. First I was calling her Z, so I gave Z a name. So naturally she wanted to introduce me to everybody. Actually, I think she used to sort of go around with this woman she used to call her cousin. I don't know if she was her cousin or not, but all of them were married. But as far as gay men are concerned, you see men, you always can tell at that time. If the woman was sort of a mannish type, the man was swishy. And of course everybody who was swishy or the mannish type didn't necessarily have to be gay even.
MS: Right. Do you remember any swishy men?
AC: Let's see, when I lived in North Tower, there was one guy who was gay that I was friendly with. And then there was this young guy, youngish guy. He wasn't exactly the swishy type. He was not the macho type. And I wonder what ever happened to him. He died.
MS: Was he gay also?
MS: How did you find out that he was gay?
AC: Well I guess to some extent at that stage you could tell. If so and so didn't have a girlfriend, he must have a boyfriend. Also, I guess my lover at the time, the one that came after Alda, she was the type that knows everything, knows everybody. And she was laughing at first. I forgot what she said, implying that he had been engaging in anal intercourse. At the time, I guess this was a small town mentality to some extent, I didn't know what she was talking about. I mean naturally eventually I figured it out. It just didn't hit me face on at the time.
MS: Did you have any gay male friends? People you'd consider friends who you'd ever have over to your apartment or who you'd go to their house?
AC: Well do you mean at a certain time?
MS: Yeah, in the '50s or the '60s.
AC: Well like I said, I knew this one guy. Most of the time when I had friends over they were women, but like I said I just knew that one guy and I was friendly with him. I went up to his house. I used to come up for a drink or he used to come down to my place.
MS: Yeah, is that right? So you would socialize with him?
AC: Yeah, I had no aversions to socializing with gay men or men either for that matter. I don't know when I became conscious of the fact that I wasn't comfortable around straight men. I guess it was after I started reading feminist literature and realized that they confirmed most of the stuff I sort of had realized.
AC: Because I know I wasn't that way. Like I said, that's all we used to have to play with when we were kids.
MS: Did you ever go to any gay bars in the '50s or '60s?
AC: We went to one gay bar, which was called Rusty's, and it was very prejudiced. I could tell they didn't want us there. I've forgotten where it was. I think it was somewhere on the outskirts, not quite in Center City.
MS: Prejudiced against Black people? Is that what you mean? Prejudiced against Black people?
AC: Oh definitely, right. You could tell they didn't want us to be in there
MS: How did they treat you? Can you give me any descriptions?
AC: Frowning. Of course I never liked bars anyway. Right now I'm not sure why I never liked bars.
MS: Did you go in there with another Black woman?
AC: I think there were two or three of us. I've never been to a bar by myself. Like I said, I never liked bars. I was never one to hang out around bars.
MS: So you never went back to Rusty's after that?
AC: I don't go places where, unless we’re going to start some action. And like I say, at that time, nobody started an action anyway. I mean I wasn't that interested in going to a bar.
MS: Any other kind of gay bars, like men's bars? Did you ever go into any of the Black gay bars?
AC: In the '50s you're talking about?
MS: '60s? Some people talk about a place called S.K.'s or the Ritz.
AC: Like I say, I've never been much of a bar person.
AC: If I went to bars, they would be straight bars, because I wasn't that interested in bars period. Like I said, I'm not sure why I wasn't that interested in bars.
MS: You wrote in your book in a few different places about your not being very positive about butch-fem relationships. Could you talk to me a little bit about that?
AC: See I have very strong feelings about a lot of stuff and I don't mind expressing them, not to say I'm right or wrong. But I had an argument. It wasn't necessarily an argument. I don't know how the discussion came up. And the way I see it, I mean why ape the straight world? I think there are always exceptions, mind you, but I think relationships between men and women are atrocious. You don't think so?
MS: No, I do, I do. And you thought butch-fem was the same thing?
AC: It's an aping of that world. I mean there are degrees, granted. I’m not saying you are gay or not gay because of that. I think you're gay because to some extent you're born that way. But I got into this argument with this woman. She said if you don’t play roles, it’s like a mockery of being gay. And I think it's just the opposite! I mean if you’re going to be a fem, then go ahead and be a fem in the straight world, where at least you won't be scorned and at least you might have some kind of protection. I mean what's the difference! I think it's ridiculous! Granted, some people are more this way and that way. But I'm talking about rigid roles here now. And that's the way they were in the Black community. When I say the Black community, I mean the Black lesbian community. In fact, that's the reason I withdrew. I don't know whether I said that in the book, but I know I've written it somewhere. Because it just didn't make sense to me. It got on my nerves. And I mean don't come pushing me into any kind of pigeon hole. And it just seemed ludicrous to me, swaggering around. If that's the way you are, it's all right, but most of it was exaggeration. Like I said, sometimes that's the way you are, but don't go exaggerating and stuff. I mean just be natural. To me it doesn't make sense.
MS: Let me ask you something else. We were talking before the tape was on about neighborhoods. And you were saying something I thought was very interesting. You said you didn't think Black gay men and lesbians….
AC: Not men. Remember I said I don't know that much about men.
AC: But I think to some extent what I say about Black women applies to Black men. Remember, don't be insulted now, but a lot of white people, when I say white people I don't mean everybody. There are some differences. But white people think, when they buy a house, they have bought the whole neighborhood. “It's our neighborhood. You stay out of our neighborhood.” In fact, people who just got out of the boat and can't even speak English, “Get out of our neighborhood.” See that's why there's a good deal of hostility between a lot of Black people and the foreigners. Because we have seen foreigners come here and before they could even learn a word of English, they think they can say, “Nigger, get out of my neighborhood.” That's why you find that hostility. I'll tell you something. Yentl? That movie Yentl?
AC: I saw it about twice, maybe the ending once, the beginning once, and all through once. And of course the first time it annoyed me greatly because of how a woman was treated. And the second time something else annoyed me. But the third time, when those immigrants came and saw the Statue of Liberty and I realized that they were getting off the boat and the minute they got off the boat, they’re going to have more rights than I? Through with Yentl. Not that I'm blaming those people. And people say, “Why do Black people feel that way?” White people don't understand a thing about Black people. Like I said, there are exceptions now, but that's generally speaking.
MS: What you were saying before was that you thought Black gay women didn't move into some of those neighborhoods, that they tended to stay in their home neighborhoods, right?
AC: Well in the first place, let me say, there's a matter of money and there's a matter of “don't come in our neighborhood.” So actually, in other words, Black people are just not as free to move around as white people. Plus the fact that even if we were, a lot of times we wouldn't want to move there anyhow. We want to stay with our family or friends and stuff.
MS: So was there any part of the city that you think was better for Black gay women to live in?
AC: Well see I never looked at it that way.
MS: Tell me how you looked at it. That's what I'm asking.
AC: I just looked at it. I moved where I wanted. I wasn't looking for other Black women or gay Black people to move to. I was looking for somewhere I could afford. Or when I moved to North Tower, I moved there because it was a safe place for a single woman to be. You had a door person, people you'd see walking in and out.
AC: So that's why I moved there. That's why I moved back there when I didn't have a roommate.
MS: I see.
AC: Well like I said, I think partly it’s because remember there's not that many Black people in the country period. So you know how many Black gay people there are. So if you go around looking for them to move somewhere, I mean it doesn't make sense.
MS: Right, O.K.
AC: I guess it's a difference in orientation or something.
MS: Let me ask you something else. I know you started writing for The Ladder in the early 1970s. And I'm wondering how that came about. Did they contact you or did you contact them?
AC: Well I presume I saw The Ladder when I went out to the Women's Center.
AC: I never remember seeing anything on the newsstands.
MS: And then did you just send something to them? How did you have those articles published there?
AC: Well let's see. I've forgotten the first thing I sent. I sent her a story. I say her, meaning Barbara Grier.
MS: She was the editor then?
AC: Right. I sent something. I've forgotten what it was.
MS: And did they call you back or write to you back?
AC: I think what happened is that I sent her something when I still lived up in North Tower. See if I could remember what I sent, maybe I could remember what happened. But anyway, I had a communication from her. I remember the name. See at the time she was Gene Damon. And then when I got this thing from Barbara Grier, see there used to be a woman who used to write for the [?] magazine. Her name was G-R-E-E-R. And I didn't know who Barbara Grier was. I've forgotten what she said. I guess she asked me to send her something else. Like I said, if I could remember what I first sent her.
MS: But it sounds like they were pretty encouraging. They were encouraging you to write more.
AC: Well like I said, I don't think anybody Black ever wrote for them. She said that she used to be in communication with Lorraine Hansberry.
MS: Oh right.
AC: But I don't think anything of hers ever appeared in The Ladder.
MS: So did you have some sense that you were breaking new ground.
AC: No. Because people call me a pioneer; I don't know what they're talking about. I think about old pioneers were Willa Cather and stuff.
MS: Didn't you think you were doing something special?
AC: In what respect?
MS: Well being the first.
AC: But how did I know I was the first?
MS: You didn't know that you were the first?
MS: Oh, O.K. You only found that out later.
AC: Not necessarily. I assumed I was first. And when they got the book, did you see the anthology that The Ladder got out?
AC: I've forgotten the press. I was just thinking about the woman the other day. At the time they were in Baltimore. Diana Press, I think. They had a mimeographed request thing going around. And she said, “If you don't want us to use this, we'll manage.” But mine, Barbara said, “With you, we especially want your stuff.” Because like I said, I guess I was the only Black folks I ever saw in there at that time.
MS: How did you first come in touch with the women's movement? Was it at the Women's Center? Was that the first contact you had with the women's movement?
AC: Yes. What other contact would I have? I'm not trying to be funny.
MS: I don't know if you joined any other groups or if it was at Penn or if it was at Temple?
AC: Well see at that time, I was living up at North Tower. And naturally I'm not going to stroll around Penn. If anything, I'd stroll up to Temple, which I did sometimes.
MS: But some women were involved with a group called Radicalesbians.
AC: That was out at the Women's Center.
MS: And were you involved with that group?
MS: You were. And so was that maybe the first feminist group that you belonged to?
AC: Well see, as I told you, I withdrew from the Black lesbians. Why don't you stand up?
MS: No I'm O.K., I'm O.K.
AC: You sure?
AC: The Black lesbian, I'll say community, even though that's sort of a big word for a small group. I didn't like the role playing and they drank so much. Now everybody was drinking a lot, I guess, but I just didn't like what I saw. So like I said, I was just sort of staying to myself to some extent. I had withdrawn from the straight community, because I couldn't stand. Of course this is what I used to say when I was in the feminist groups, that I didn't want to listen to any of the horror stories so many straight women told. Now I've forgotten when I came to that conclusion, but I guess I just didn't feel comfortable around straight people. And what happened: I wrote a story that was in Phylon. That's something put out by Atlanta University. Race and culture or something. And they published the story. And I got a letter from some white woman in New York, I think. I guess the story had feminist overtones, but see Black women have always been feminists. I mean that's the only way we survived, that we were feminists. See a lot of people think being feminist means you hate men. And straight women hate men more. Most gay women are feminists, to some extent I think. Well naturally I was very interested in the women's movement because that was the only movement that I saw that might include me. The Black movement didn't include me. They just wanted to get Black women out of the white man's kitchen so they could be in the Black man's kitchen, but see that didn't make any sense to me. At least you got paid when you worked for white man. You know what I'm saying? So anyway, I followed, because at that time, we're talking 1970, I guess, or '69, but mostly 1970, all through the big women's slick magazines, you had articles on the women's movement. Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, and I guess Redbook to some extent. But I guess never Good Housekeeping. That name tells you a lot.
MS: So you were reading the magazines. So you knew a lot about the women's movement from reading.
AC: Well you'd read it in the newspapers. See remember I was a journalism major. So at that time I'd read the newspapers seven days a week and two on Sunday. The New York Times and at that time the Bulletin was still publishing.
MS: But when did you start going to meetings? Was it at the Women's Center?
AC: Well I'll tell you. When they celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the women's right to vote, they had a celebration or something down at Rittenhouse Square. And I went down there and got some literature and was looking around and stuff. And I guess that's one of the ways I first heard about the Women's Center. Also, I think I heard some interviews on maybe WFLN.
MS: I see.
AC: So anyway, I kept telling myself I was going to go out to the Women's Center and see what was going on.
MS: You liked the atmosphere there?
AC: Yes, to a great extent. I have written about that, too, somewhere, but I don't know whether it got published yet. See I've written so much stuff, most of it didn't get published. See one of the things why I hesitated at first. See at that time, I don't know if you'd remember it or not. You were born in 1963.
AC: No, you don't remember. They were casting aspersions on lesbians. And that's why they called us the lavender menace. That's why most of us like lavender, because they don't, right? So anyway, I was hesitating about that, because I wasn't about to go out there and be hiding what I was. I'm not the type to go around wearing a placard or anything like that. But anyway, so when I got out there, there was the Radicalesbians out there. And like I said, I think somewhere I've said, I was probably more welcomed. In other words, see you can't live in a country that's racist and not be affected in some manner or other. So naturally they had the same attitudes to some extent that the regular society had. But also there was some willingness to try to change to some extent. Of course there were varying degrees of success and non-success.
AC: But I felt more comfortable there, because like I said, I don't join, not voluntarily, man-dominated organizations or what have you.
MS: Do you think that gay men were as sexist as straight men back then?
AC: I'm glad you asked that question, because I guess really I don't know, but see I've been asking myself the same thing. Here's what I think. There are gay men who like women, who are similar to women. Just for the sake of simplification, we'll say stud and the more feminine gay man, I’ll say.
AC: I think there are some gay men who are more stud-like, who also like women. But I think there are some who don't like women. And see I'm of the opinion that most straight men don't like women, but most of them will hide it to certain degrees. But see a gay man who doesn't like women has no reason to hide it, because he doesn't want anything from the woman. So I think the hatred shows more. But as to answer your question, well I wouldn't be more comfortable with gay men if I didn't feel that they weren't as sexist. Was that your question, sexist?
AC: As straight men.
MS: So you said you wouldn't be as....
AC: I wouldn't.
MS: Right, but you are more comfortable with gay men than you are with straight men?
AC: Of course.
MS: But you said you didn't have much dealing with gay men in the '50s and '60s.
AC: I never met any. I never met any period. See I'll tell you, did you know Joe Beam?
MS: Yeah, yeah.
AC: Joe Beam I considered a friend, but he's about the only Black gay guy I knew.
MS: When did you meet him? Do you remember? In the '70s or was it earlier?
AC: Remember he used to clerk at Giovanni's Room.
AC: And that's where I saw him and we just got to know each other. I wouldn't call us friendly. Remember the time I told you that I interviewed Barbara Smith.
AC: Well Rita Addessa and Barbara and Joe and I went out together. In fact, Rita picked Joe and me up here. We went out there. So I liked him. He was a bright young man. I was just stunned when he died, really.
MS: Yeah, it was really tragic. So you liked him.
AC: Well like I said, how many Black gay men do you know?
MS: Quite a lot.
AC: You do?
AC: I think now they're getting together with the groups and stuff, Black and White Men Together and stuff like that, but before that, who did you know? How many did you know?
MS: Oh well maybe because I'm younger, those groups were around when I came out in the 1980s.
AC: I don't know when they started coming out with that kind of stuff. But see the thing is, like I said, I'm not a bar person. When I go to dances, most of the time they're women's dances. Now there were a couple of dances I went to, I think these were given by I'll say non-feminist Black women, which may not be entirely accurate, but these women as far as I knew weren't associated with the feminist movement, the women's movement. But they had something before called Black and White, I guess, or something like that. But the last one I went to, there were a lot of men. I'm pretty sure that most of them were gay or at least gay-oriented. So they didn't bother me. See with straight men, of course once you get to a certain age, you're not bothered like that, but when you're young, they're always pawing on you. I don't want anybody pawing on me. Like I said, I don't like that role-playing. Because the gay woman who's going to be the male, she's pawing. Don't be hemming me into the corner.
MS: Right, right. But it sounds like pretty much your friends were mostly other Black gay women, right?
AC: During what time?
MS: In the '60s and '50s and early '70s.
AC: Like I said, it wasn't until the late '50s that I met more than one lesbian at a time.
MS: You were just telling me that you withdrew from other Black gay women in the '50s or in the '60s.
AC: Right, sometime during the '60s.
MS: And then you mostly had to do with white feminists, right?
AC: I met them during '71 when I went out to the Women's Center.
MS: But never through those years had much to do with Black gay men.
AC: Never saw any that I knew.
MS: Or gay men in general.
AC: Well where would I meet them unless I went to a bar. No seriously, I'm not trying to be funny.
MS: So you never were in any of the mixed gay organizations like GAA or GLF?
AC: No. A friend of mine was. She was in GAA. What did they call that?
MS: Gay Activists Alliance?
AC: Right. We had formed this writers' group, sort of like a writers' support group or something like that. And one of the women there also joined that group and that's where she met this friend, who later became one of my friends. Now they had a dance. This was in 1974. She's one of my oldest friends. Forgot where it was, somewhere downtown, where the gay folks sort of congregate maybe. It was a pretty good dance. Certainly men were there, but like I said it was GAA.
MS: Right. Horizon House maybe? Does that sound familiar? Was that the place?
AC: The name sounds familiar, but I'm not sure if that's where it was.
MS: Were you reading much of the local gay or lesbian press? Things like Wicce or Gay Alternative?
AC: Well I used to write for both of them. I wouldn’t say I wrote; I had an article in the Gay Alternative.
MS: Yeah I remember. I've seen that one.
AC: You saw that one in the Gay Alternative?
MS: And I've seen the one in Wicce, too. So were you a regular reader of those two magazines?
AC: Well I feel certain I was. Well Wicce, I don't think I ever belonged to it, but one of the women who wrote for Wicce, she used to live on our third floor.
MS: Oh really? What's her name?
AC: I knew you were going to ask me that. It'll probably pop in my head soon.
AC: I can't think of it right now. But you know Victoria Brownworth? I met her when she was just a 16-year-old frosh at Penn.
MS: Is that right?
AC: I saw a funny thing by her that I read the other day. I haven't seen her lately. Actually I saw where she was teaching courses at this community college, one of them in mystery writing. I bet she doesn't know bees about mystery writing. I shouldn't say that. Maybe she does. She's very bright.
MS: Something you were saying before the tape went on: you were telling the story of the Women's Center being started at Penn. And you were telling the story of Robin Morgan's speech.
MS: You want to say that again for the tape.
AC: Yes, well she came here and I went down to hear her. And like I said, she was talking, she sat down on the edge of the stage. And she was talking very calmly and stuff. And like I say, I could just tell she was inciting them to riot. And she was just smiling. And like I said, I was older than the rest of them and probably they didn't realize it. And one time in the speech, she named two places, I think they were out in the Midwest somewhere. They were universities. She said, “They don't allow me on campus anymore.” And like I said, in less than a week's time, that's when the sit-ins started out there. She's the one who got that women's center started.
MS: Did you participate in that sit-in?
AC: No, no. At that time, my knees were stiff and stuff like that. My feet didn't bear stuff becase wearing high heeled shoes and with thin soles and stepping on pebbles and stuff just ruined my feet, callouses on the bottom. Like I said, the stuff on the bottom of your feet: is that a callous or whatever it is.
AC: But no, I never sit-in.
MS: Well are there other things about what it was like to be a Black lesbian in the '50s and '60s that you want to tell me about. Other things that you can think of that we haven't talked about.
AC: No. I think I've written about it so much. Nothing you want to think to ask? I tell you what fascinates me about you keep asking me, which I guess is only natural, about me knowing gay men.
MS: Well it's because my project is trying to look at where the gay and lesbian communities came together and where they didn't come together. So it sounds like you're one of the people whose lives didn't connect very much with the gay men's.
AC: Right, but I don't think I'm a good example.
MS: Why do you think that?
AC: Well nowadays I would say because I'm older. But when I was younger, in the first place, where would they socialize?
MS: Some people have told me a lot of stories about socializing together in the bars or at house parties. Some people say that their lives didn't connect much. There are a lot of people who are like you.
AC: Well see here's the thing about it. I'd say first of all there weren't that many gay bars around, at least not many Black gay bars around that I know of. And if you didn't go to a bar and meet somebody, like you say you socialize, but how would you know about that if you didn't know those people. It's sort of like a closed society almost. Of course like I say, you might get a different story from other Black women of my age maybe. I don't know.
MS: Sounded like most of the women you met, the gay women that you met, you met at work, right? That's what I got out of reading some of your stories.
AC: Well like I say, I met Alda at work. And those other women that Alda later met, they were co-workers. You’re right. That's about the only place you meet people if you didn't meet them. Don't be ashamed to yawn. I'm sorry. I'm surprised I'm not yawning because I got about maybe a half hour's sleep sitting in the chair upstairs. But see you meet people in church or you meet people at dances or you meet people at somebody else's house. Also, I guess to some extent, maybe if you weren't sure about somebody, you can say, “Well I'm gay” or “I’m a lesbian.”
AC: I think to some extent people say sometimes you can tell. See also, I think to some extent, men, what's the word I want to use, I think gay men are more active or something than gay women to some extent. Maybe not the present generation.
MS: What do you mean about the older generation? Can you say more about what you mean by that?
AC: Well from what I've read about gay men, it just seems like they are almost, it’s not eternal but sometimes it seems like that, just looking for partners. Women don't do that sort of thing, not women of my generation anyway. I mean to some extent you did, but it seemed like it was a ferocious search. See I've read, for example, Tennessee Williams's memoirs. I've forgotten the name of it. But I mean naturally I knew a lot of sex was going to be in it, but I said I'll just skip all of it or most of it. But you couldn't skip anything. It was just intertwined, like a rug. Did you ever read it?
MS: No I haven't, but I've read his stories, so I know something about it.
AC: But I tell you, even when he was in college. I mean see I was interested in Tennessee Williams the playwright.
MS: I see.
AC: And I thought he was going to be talking about that. But I mean it was just every other sentence.
MS: So you think Black gay women, or do you think all gay women, just weren't like that?
AC: Well see the thing is gay women and straight women are socialized the same. How many straight women do you know that just actively go out and just looking for partners all the time. I mean naturally we're all wanting to meet somebody and you always got an eye peeled, but you're not going out just relentlessly looking for somebody.
MS: And you think gay men and straight men are always doing that?
AC: Well judging by their writing. Let me say this. I took this Free University course. We were saying one day that straight people think that lesbians are all ugly and are always hopping in bed with each other. And somebody said, “Well what do we do in the daytime.” Somebody in the back of the room said, “Rest.”
MS: How about some of the language that was used. Can you tell me some of the words that were used among gay people in the '50s and '60s?
AC: The only thing I can remember, that I spoke of in that book, is about how Black women used to call the more male of the two a stud.
MS: And what about the more feminine of the two. Did they have names?
AC: I guess they called them fem, even though offhand I can't remember precisely.
MS: Were there other words that you can think of that people used? Did people use the word queer or different?
AC: Oh I know a word that I heard. And the first time I heard it, I didn't know what it meant. Except like I say, you can figure things out eventually. Bulldagger: that was a word that I think the straight people used to refer to a gay woman.
MS: Where did you encounter that word?
AC: Probably from straight people maybe.
MS: Do you think you heard someone say it?
AC: Why not? Well I had to hear somebody say it. But I definitely remember it. Like I said, the first time I heard it, I didn't know what it meant. Except that, like I say, you finally piece things together. And I don't know. Where did I first hear that word? It might have been Zelmar maybe. I'm not too sure.
MS: Did anybody ever call you names on the street or anyplace else?
AC: Not to my face.
MS: Not to your face. And you never experienced any kind of anti-gay violence.
MS: How about any of your friends? Did you hear stories of that happening?
AC: Now see we'd have to face anti-Black violence before we'd face anti-gay or -lesbian violence.
MS: Right, right.
AC: And of course when I was younger, most of the time I looked like a straight woman.
MS: Right, right.
AC: Because women didn't dress the way I dress now. You always had a pair of dungarees. We'd call them dungarees, not jeans. No, you didn't go around dressed like I am now. So what are they going to call you?
MS: I know in the book you have the interview with Audre Lorde. Do you remember how you met her?
AC: Oh yes definitely.
MS: How did you meet her?
AC: There's a food store, Thriftway now. At the time it was Penn Fruit, I think. And sometimes when I walked down there, I stopped to rest at the university, sit on one of the benches. So I was just passing through campus, I saw the notice, in fact I have the notice upstairs right now, that she was going be there. Actually it's a funny thing. This was in 1975. I think the year before I was a founding member [?]. And I remember: this is the first time I remember hearing about Audre Lorde frankly. Maybe I had heard about her before. But offhand, Audre Lorde, what does that sound like, what kind of name does that sound like? Doesn't necessarily sound like a Black lesbian, right?
AC: It could sound like anybody.
AC: So there was a notice that said “Black poet Audre Lorde is going to read” or something like that. And I said to myself, “They wouldn't say white poet Adrienne Rich is going to read.” So anyway, that's the first time I remember seeing the name. Like I said, I'd probably seen it before, but I don't remember. So anyway, I was going through the campus, Penn campus, I saw the notice. And I said “oh.” You didn't mention Hera. Do you know anything about Hera?
MS: I do know, yeah.
AC: I was one of the founding members of Hera. In fact, there was a bookstore, a women's bookstore, called Alexandria Books or something, down around 20th and Walnut or something like that. That's where Hera was born. And I said, “Oh good. I'll interview her for Hera.”
MS: I see. Now tell me how Hera got off the ground.
AC: Well we just needed a newspaper, so we got it off the ground eventually. So anyway, I went to the Women's Center because I knew some of the women there, and I said I wanted to see about interviewing Audre Lorde. So they said, “It's all right by us, but you have to ask.” What was that woman’s name? People in Women's Studies. See she was sponsored by three groups. There was something at Penn called the Women's Trust. They had a bookstore and something like an art gallery. And one of the people down there was a woman. They have a minister at the Christian Association.
AC: They had a minister there usually. I forgot her name. I interviewed her, too. She's one of the women I interviewed for my book. And like I said, the Women's Trust, I think the Christian Association, and Women's Studies. How come I can't think of that woman's name? In fact, that's where Audre stayed, stayed with the woman. It's a funny thing. When they said “yes, you can interview her,” I guess it was the next day or something, or maybe it was two days later, because I think it was on a Tuesday and she was coming on a Thursday. And when I talked with her, she was glad to see me because Penn is white. It still is white. In fact, I remember I used to go down there a lot during the '70s. You'd see more Asians there than you would Black people. And you still do.
MS: Right, right. So she was happy to see you.
AC: Right. So they were going to retreat to a back room. And so I asked the minister, “Can I come too.” She said, “Yeah.” And one of the first things she said was asking me questions. I said, “Well I'm not a member of the University.” She said, “Well that's all right.” Anyway, to make a long story short, this woman had a little girl. In fact, she was a little African American girl she had adopted. That interview is very interesting. I should try to publish that somewhere even though it's pretty old, but still it's very interesting. And to make a long story short, they left and left us in the house. Another woman named B. Smith. She was at Penn. She was going into the Army after she graduated. And they left the house to us and I felt terrible. What happened, see, that was during a trolley strike. And I had let my last ride go home. And I felt terrible. And when they left, Audre jumped up and down. I forgot how she said it. “Oh we got rid of them” or something to that effect. So that's how I met her.
MS: Tell me about Alexandria Books. When did that start?
AC: I guess they started in '75. Maybe they started before '75.
MS: Had you ever been to another women's bookstore?
AC: That was the only one here. Afterwards, we had one called, I can't remember the name, the woman later died. I think Judy was the first name. Nicholson, I think, something like that. Apparently I've forgotten. But anyway, I read there, incidentally, in '85. But there were no women's bookstores in Philadelphia.
MS: Had you ever been to Giovanni's Room in the first few years it was opened in the '70s.
AC: Well I read down there.
MS: But I mean in the first few years it was open.
AC: Like I said, I read there. What happened, how I became aware of Pat Parker: when a friend of mine moved out to California, they sent me what was her second book, Pit Stop. And actually that was the first time that poetry ever spoke directly to me, that I felt. And I said, “Oh I have to read here somewhere.” So like I said, we had this little writers' group. So I think somebody was supposed to read. I don't know how it worked out. I think I was supposed to read with this woman, but she got the measles from her little boy.
MS: Oh no.
AC: So this woman who I said introduced me to this woman who belonged to GAA. So we read. It was a funny thing. About the same time, we were going to read at Giovanni's Room. It was down at 4th, 4th and South, around there. So I read half from my autobiography and half from Pit Stop.
MS: Do you remember what year this was?
AC: 1974. In February, I think.
MS: Was that when Tom Wilson Weinberg was the owner? Or was that when Pat Hill was?
AC: No, it was two guys. They preceded Pat Hill.
MS: Tom and Bernie Boyle?
AC: I don't remember their names, but they were very nice fellows. In fact, I think they invited us to a party they gave with about five million men.
MS: Oh really?
AC: And about a dozen women sitting there. I can still tell this story. I saw this person. I said, “She looks fairly interesting.” And I said, “Hi, my name's Anita. What's your name?” In this heavy voice, he said “Charlie.” He was a man.
MS: This was around the same time? About '74?
AC: Yeah, well see that was the party before the reading.
MS: I see.
AC: Unless I've got something mixed up, but I don't think so.
MS: So that's a good example of your socializing with gay men.
AC: Yeah, well like I said I never had any objection to it. I guess to some extent I didn't have the opportunity. Plus I think to some extent I prefer being with women, but I have no objection to being with gay men.
MS: So was that the first time you were at a big gay male party.
AC: It most certainly was. It was huge, it seemed to me.
MS: Where was it held?
AC: It was upstairs. I don't think it was upstairs of the bookstore, but it was in the same area.
MS: Is that down in Center City or the South Street area?
AC: Right, it was on South Street. It was on South Street. It was upstairs somewhere. There was a whole lot of folks.
MS: Mixed racially? Or was it mostly white.
AC: Well offhand I don't remember any Black folks being there except me. Now I would say there probably had to have been somebody else, but there didn't have to be. I don't remember any other Blacks there. Of course like I say, there probably could have been. There were people coming and going, too.
MS: Did you ever go to the Halloween drag queen parade in Center City on Halloween night when you were growing up?
AC: Well wait a minute. Don't use terms like that with me being here. When I moved to Philadelphia, I was a grown woman.
MS: O.K., O.K.?
AC: See remember I told you my mother moved here.
MS: You were sixteen then, you said.
AC: No that was when I moved to the Philadelphia area. I see what you mean. Oh no. Listen, how would somebody living in Yeadon in 1939 know about that?
MS: Well O.K. Well what about later on, then, when you were living in the city and you were older. Because I know that every Halloween night there was a parade. There was a Black one on South Street and a white one on Locust Street. That's what people have told me.
AC: Well I don't understand how I would know, unless I just knew somebody who would participate.
MS: Well people have said that it was a big event, that a lot of people came in from other parts of the city to watch.
AC: Well that may be true.
MS: But you didn't, O.K.
AC: See one thing a lot of white people don't realize, too: Black people are awfully conservative. That's one reason I'm so surprised that my cousin, when I told her, see she's like society sort of stuff, and she knew I wrote a book. She'd be telling, “Yeah my cousin wrote a book.” So I told her, because I didn't want somebody saying, “Well your cousin is a lesbian.” So I told her. She said, “Well I don't care.” Which really surprised me because like I say she's my age. She's four month younger than I am. In fact, her daughter, she still has the Yeadon address even though she lives in town, lives in Jersey, South Jersey. She was a reporter at one time for the Courier-Post. And she was called for jury duty out in Delaware County, Media, that's the county seat or whatever. And she said she had my book out there reading it. And something cracked her up. And I was horrified. I said, “Did you have a cover.” She said, “No!” Can you imagine that? Delaware County? Delaware County is very prejudiced, very prejudiced. Almost like the South. And she's sitting there like reading that book and cracking up. And with no cover on it. I’m telling you. But no, I cannot understand how I would know about something like that, unless I would know somebody who would participate. And like I say, offhand, I didn’t.
MS: Did you ever know any drag queens? Did you ever meet any?
AC: Well to tell the truth, I think it’s only been fairly recently that I knew what a drag queen was. And like I say, you can always figure things out.
MS: A lot of people have told me about someone who was nicknamed Sarah Vaughan.
AC: Well I think they always call themselves things, like a lot of gay men love Judy Garland. I don't know if there's anybody who calls themselves Judy Garland.
AC: But see I still think I'm not exactly a good person to ask on those scores.
MS: Well that's why I'm interviewing a lot of people, because everyone has a different story.
AC: Right, right. And see like I said, I'm a Black southerner. And southerners of my generation, Black southerners, had to protect their daughters, because nobody else would. And you just didn't run around at loose ends. See when we used to go out, we'd go out in groups.
MS: You just mentioned your cousin. Did anybody else in your family know that you were a lesbian?
AC: Well I'm sure my mother should have figured it out, because the first time I got the book, she's the first one I gave it to. I showed her all my writings.
MS: When did you first give her your writings?
AC: Every time they would come out.
MS: So when you were published in The Ladder?
AC: Everything I ever published I would show it to her. I would give her a copy.
MS: Did you ever talk about lesbianism?
AC: No, because I figured she would say, I don't know what I figured she'd say, because she was always talking about men. She didn't like the way men treated women. And I don't what I figured she'd say. I figured that she might say something that would make me angry. And I would say something I wouldn’t want to say, because see, like I said, I'm from a generation that respects your elders. And I figured I'd say, “Well momma, you're always saying how men treat women. What am I supposed to do?” And she might say, “You need Jesus” or something like that. I might say, “Do so and so to Jesus.” Now you know I wouldn't want to say that. You know what I mean?
MS: Right, right. So you gave her your articles, but you never talked with her about it.
AC: Well I guess I have different ideas or just feel differently. I don't feel that I have to explain myself to people, so to speak. I mean if I want to be the way I am, that's the way I am. And like I say, if you don't like it, see I actually have a quick temper, which over the years I have sort of tempered down so to speak. But like I said, I wouldn't want to risk saying something to my mother that I didn't want to say.
MS: Right, right.
AC: And I guess some people sort of feel the need to confess? Is that what you mean?
MS: Not so much confess. Share.
AC: Ideas and stuff?
MS: Share stories. Like if you had partners over the years, would your mother know Alda?
AC: Of course she knew.
MS: And did she know that you two were together? Would you go to her for advice if you were having problems? That sort of thing. That's what I mean.
AC: See my mother was very independent. And like I said, most Black women of my generation were very independent. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to survive. So it never would occur to me. Well sometimes I guess you want advice from people, but I just don't remember.
AC: I mean I started figuring out things myself to some extent. But I can understand what you're saying, especially younger people. I just don’t know. Here again, I think there's probably some cultural differences. Like I'm a football fan, mostly a Randall Cunningham fan. And I hear people talking about, “Well Randall is scared.” I told my cousin, “That Black boy ain't scared of white folks.” I mean naturally nobody wants to get hurt. But I mean all this stuff he has to put up with. He's not scared of them. You project your own feelings or anxieties or what not. But no, he's not scared.
AC: I mean he might be a whole lot of other things, but no, he's not scared.
MS: Well is there anything else you want to add for final thoughts? Things you think it's really important to include in a history of gay Philadelphia.
AC: No, because I told you from the beginning that I didn't think I was the best person to talk to. I don't know. I would surmise maybe that other Black women of my generation just got around more. Like I said, in the '60s, that's when I started withdrawing from Black gay community and I had already withdrawn from the straight community, so to speak.
MS: Right, right.
AC: See the thing is, to some extent it was just my mother and me. And when my aunt came up here, we had a whole lot of work to do. And that drew my cousin and I back together again. So that was a good deal, to some extent. Until then, my mother was in contact with the rest of the family. I was trying to write and do other things, maybe socialize a little bit. One thing is that I was older than most of the women I knew at that time that I met from the women's movement. But like I said, I just don't think I'm the best person.
MS: Well you're being too modest.
AC: No. I just didn't associate, didn't go around randomly. Like see if I were a male, I'd probably be running around. Well you know how men are. There's nothing wrong with it, but that's not the way of most women, at least not of my generation.
MS: But I think your articles, and this is where I think you're being modest, were a very important contribution. And it must have taken a lot of courage to publish the articles that you published.
AC: Well I'm glad you brought that up. I think this is sort of important. I remember the article when I said I was a lesbian. I've forgotten how I said it. This is one time I don't know that I was necessarily asking for advice, but this is one time, I hope I don't sound like a know-it-all. I'm very definitely not a know-it-all, O.K. But like I say, I have been sort of independent to some extent, even though I guess that sounds contradictory. At the same time, I said, “Well you know I was a Black southerner of a certain generation and my family had to protect me because who else was going to protect me.” Then, on the other hand, I said I'm independent. But see I guess to some extent I modeled myself after my mother. Who else would I model myself after? But anyway, I remember Barbara Grier wanted me to, it's hard now to remember precisely. The thing is there was this article, it might have been the second one that appeared in The Ladder, that said I was a lesbian. So I think I remember telling at this time there was another white woman. They're all white except me. She was just seven years younger than I. Everybody else was much younger. In fact, the one who started the group, we all started it sort of, but it was her idea. She was nineteen.
MS: Oh really.
AC: See I'm forty-six. So this white woman I'm about to tell you about, she was thirty-three-ish. Like I said, she was seven years younger. So I guess she was what thirty-nine-ish or something. Anyway, I was telling her about Barbara wanting me to print this article. And so she said, “You don't want to?” I said “no.” She said, “Why not?” I said, “I guess it's a matter of exposure.” So I don't know what followed after that, but I guess I got to thinking, “So what?” What can they do to me. I mean I don't have a job. They can't fire me. What are they going to do, shoot me?
MS: So maybe you had a little freedom because you didn't have a job?
AC: Oh I said that. You should see that article, maybe I'll send you a copy, that Tommi Avicolli did with me. That's what I said in there. Terrible picture, looked just like that. I said I understand people who don't want to be coming out. They have family or friends or a job. See of course you didn't ask me about that, but I'll speak out about it. This outing business, I think that's horrendous. Now if we're talking about an enemy, that's a different story. But if we're talking about somebody who's minding their business, they have a right to be in the closet if they want to. I think it's terrible to go and expose somebody who hasn't done a thing to you. And that is no way to make allies. That's a way to make enemies.
MS: But Barbara Grier must have persuaded you.
AC: Well I don't think she had to persuade me. I think she just asked me. And I think I thought about it, talking to this friend. And I said, “I guess it's a matter of not wanting to be exposed. And I guess sometimes you answer your own question after thinking about it.
AC: So what's going to happen to you? See at the time, I used to keep a journal, but never like one should. During the '60s, the latter part of the '60s, middle to latter part of the '60s, I had what was called [?]. At the time, I didn't know what it was. I just used to get tired all the time. So I said, “What am I doing with my time?” So I started keeping a daily journal, just notations of what I've done. Nothing literary, so maybe I copied something down through that.
MS: When did Tommi do his interview with you? Recently or a long time ago?
AC: It was a little while ago. Well it was after my book came out. My book came out in '83, so sometime between '83 and '86, I would say.
MS: I'd be very interested in getting a copy of that.
AC: O.K. Well you're going to leave me your address.
MS: Well should we turn this off.
AC: Yeah I don't think I have anything else to say. Like I say, feel free to call me or drop me a note.
MS: Well thank you very much.