"Jay Herman," May 16, 1996
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2009. All rights reserved.
I interviewed "Jay Herman," who requested that I use a pseudonym, in May 1996 at his home in the Philadelphia suburbs. Having finished my Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1994, I spent the 1995-96 academic year as a postdoctoral fellow at Bryn Mawr College, where I met a group of professors who taught at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore; I believe one of those professors provided me with Herman's contact information and informed me that Herman was in poor health. As the interview makes clear, Herman was a professor at Swarthmore. Before the taped part of the interview began, Herman provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 22 March 1941
Place of Birth: Washington, D.C.
Place of Mother's Birth: Wake Forest, North Carolina
Mother's Occupation: Claims Examiner
Place of Father's Birth: Baltimore
Father's Occupation: Postal Employee
Race/Ethnicity: African American
Religious Background: Raised Roman Catholic
Class Background: Middle Class
1941-62: Washington, D.C.
1962-65: Providence, Rhode Island
1966-69: Philadelphia (Hopkinson House, 602 Washington Square South)
1969-72: Philadelphia (919 Lombard St.)
1972: Latin America
1973-75: Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
1975-96: Aldan, Pennsylvania
Work History 1964-65: Teaching Associate
1966-70: Instructor/Assistant Professor (Temple University)
1970-96: Assistant, Associate, Full Professor (Swarthmore College)
Herman died in late 1996 or 1997, before I had the opportunity to share with him a copy of the interview transcript and ask for corrections or clarifications, which was my usual practice.
Marc Stein Interview with "Jay Herman," 16 May 1996.Transcribed by Lisa Williams and Marc Stein.
MS: This is Marc Stein and we're conducting this interview on May 16th, 1996, in the Philadelphia suburbs. I thought I would start by asking you to say a little bit about your growing up years, your childhood, your family. What kind of family did you come from and what kind of childhood did you have?
JH: Well I was fortunate to have a mother and father who were, in their particular ways, both very instrumental in my education, in my turning out to be the kind of person that I am. Both my parents were always sticklers for good English and so we got corrected, my brother and I, when we would say certain things that they didn't consider appropriate. "Ain't" was banished from the household and one of the things I remember about my father is that if my brother and I would say something like, "Where's so and so or such and such at?" he would say, "Behind the at," which was an indication that we weren't supposed to put "at" at the end of sentences like that. But in other ways, too, my parents were very influential on me. My dad encouraged my interest in musical shows. In fact, he brought home in the late '40s and early '50s a number of the Broadway shows of that period which were coming out on the earliest editions of long-playing recordings. So I got exposed to Showboat, Finian's Rainbow, South Pacific, Kiss Me Kate, and other musicals at a very early age. My dad also encouraged my interest in history. Although at that time I had no idea that I'd ever be teaching history, I was interested in it. And he bought me, I remember, a subscription to the first years of American Heritage magazine, the magazine of U.S. history. And I always enjoyed going through those and I'm sure it was very influential on me in terms of stimulating my interest in history, though when I went to college I was sure I was going to go into print journalism. I had been editor of my high school paper and the first day at Howard University I signed up as a cub reporter on the university newspaper and eventually worked my way up to the editorship of that. But by the time I was a junior, I decided that I really was interested in history and I wanted to teach at the post-graduate level. And so I became a history major.
MS: This is while you were at Howard?
MS: And you'd grown up in Washington D.C.?
JH: Yes, yes.
MS: And what about friends and siblings?
JH: Well I have one brother. And I had a few close friends as a child. We lived on a one-block street which doesn't even exist anymore. There were maybe three or four other kids in that block. And we stuck pretty much together. I had few friends in the surrounding area. I had a number of friends, of course, at school, schoolmates. But as far as the surrounding neighborhood, not so many.
MS: And what kind of neighborhood and what kind of school was it?
JH: It was a residentially segregated neighborhood. In those days Washington, D.C., was best described as a glorified southern city. Blacks couldn't go to eat in restaurants in the downtown section, couldn't go to movies in the downtown section, so it was a very, very segregated city.
MS: And your school as well?
JH: Yeah, yeah. The Black schools were in what was called division two of the Washington school system. Division one was for white students and division two for Black students. But I feel that I got a very good educational foundation because the elementary school I went to was unique in Washington, in either division. It was a school, the Charles Young Elementary School, that operated on what was called in educational jargon the platoon system. What that meant in fact was that from the third grade onwards we went to specialists for subjects such as mathematics, social studies, natural science, music, and art. So that whereas most students in the Washington, D.C., system didn't have the experience of changing classes, as we called it, until they got to junior high school, we had it from the third grade up. And I think that having been taught by specialists in those various fields, I got particularly good instruction. And I then went on to junior high school. Again those were the days of racial segregation. It wasn't until I went to high school that I had my first integrated school experience, at Eastern High in Washington.
MS: And so that was a racially integrated school?
MS: And any sense of yourself as sexually different from other people at that point, while you were a teenager, in your high school years?
JH: Not really, not really.
MS: Were you dating in any way?
JH: Yeah. I went out on dates and that sort of thing. I do remember that I had a very close friendship in college with an individual who is now very prominent in the judicial system in the Virgin Islands. And of course we never discussed anything or did anything for that matter. But as I look back on it and as I understand better now, I realize that in fact I had a crush on him. That's what I realized. And he was a very good friend and he used to spend weekends at my house. And we'd sleep in the same bed and I remember very distinctly that I would always make sure that I was on the edge of the bed, as far away from him as possible. Because I must have had some inkling that something could happen and I wanted to make sure that it didn't.
MS: So you were at the same time dating girls, is that right?
JH: Oh yes, yeah.
MS: And when had that started? In high school or in college?
JH: In high school.
MS: And what was that like?
JH: I never had any problem with that. In fact I would say that basically I lived a bisexual life up until the 1980s when I committed myself to my present partner.
MS: And so were you sexually active in high school at all with girls or with guys?
JH: No, no.
MS: And in college? Also with neither?
JH: No. That's right. In fact I've been, what's the word I want to say, greatly instructed, since I graduated from college, as I've met some of my classmates in later years, and they tell me who was doing what with whom back in those days. And I knew nothing about this. Now one thing that probably made a significant difference is that I lived at home and just commuted every day over to the campus. If I'd stayed in the dormitories, I think it might have been quite different.
MS: So if not in your own personal experience, did you have any awareness of homosexuality, learned in school, in church, on the streets, from friends?
JH: Yeah. I'd heard comments made by people about other people who they presumed to be homosexual because they may have had effeminate characteristics or something like that. But that was about as much as I knew on the subject.
MS: And do you remember where those would happen? Everywhere or in the neighborhood or in school or in church?
JH: Yeah, in school, in the neighborhood, at certain parties. You'd walk down the street and somebody might make a comment about them.
MS: Do you remember the words that were used?
JH: Oh I think faggot got in there somewhere and queer and things like that. Yeah.
MS: Ever the same thing for masculine women?
JH: I don't recall that I came across any presumptive lesbians as I was growing up.
MS: So then you moved away from D.C. when you finished Howard? Is that right?
MS: And let's see, that would have been, you graduated, in...
MS: And you moved to Providence, Rhode Island, at that point? Was that for graduate school?
MS: And tell me about those years in Providence. You told me before you lived there from '62 to '66.
JH: Yeah. I was attending Brown and I wouldn't describe myself as being sexually active, even in those years. I guess what I do remember is that I had this friend that was actually an undergraduate and he would come and visit me in my apartment from time to time. And one time we had made plans to have dinner together and he brought the wine and I soon discovered that I was supposed to be dessert. And I sent him away at first,.'cause I just wasn't prepared to deal with that. And then I thought about it and I liked him very much as a friend so I called him up and he came over and we had a relationship for a short period of time. It was getting near the end of the academic year, so we didn't have that much time to be together.
MS: So it lasted a number of months, it sounds like?
MS: And was it a good few months?
JH: Yes it was. Yes.
MS: So was that both your first relationship and your first sexual experience?
MS: But it didn't continue after.
JH: No, no. Remember this guy's an undergraduate and I'm the graduate student and he knows more about these things than I do. He took me to some bars in Providence. But then after he graduated and I went on my way, then for a period of several years, I had no involvement with homosexuality, no involvement with the gay community. Until I went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, of all places, to do research for my dissertation. I was so naive, I stayed at the YMCA there on Orange Street and didn't have any notion of what was going on in YMCAs at that time. I had noticed that up the street was a bar, the village bar, that had a little sign underneath that said rathskeller. And I thought, "That sounds interesting. Maybe I'll go and have some beer on weekends after I finish my research." So indeed, after the first week I was in Lancaster, I went to the village bar and went down to the rathskeller and unbeknownst to me I'd walked into the only gay bar in Lancaster. And there were quite a few seniors from Franklin and Marshall and others as well. But other than just friendship, I didn't have any relations with anyone at that place.
MS: Now was that while you were still living in Providence or had you moved?
JH: I had left Providence and had gone to start the research for my dissertation.
MS: And you were living in Philadelphia?
JH: No, I was living in Lancaster. I lived in Lancaster for a brief period, from June of '65 to November of '65. And then I came to Philadelphia to continue my research.
MS: I see. So what can you tell me about the bar? Can you remember anything more about it?
JH: Not particularly, no. I remember, as I said, it was in the basement of this village bar. And it was a very long, oval-shaped bar. I do remember that.
MS: And how did you realize it was a gay bar? Do you remember?
JH: Well when I looked around and saw there were only men in it and then when I overheard some of the conversation that was going on, it soon became clear to me that it was in fact a gay bar.
MS: So why did you stay if this was a totally foreign experience?
JH: Well there must have been something that was attracting me to it, just as there was something which I didn't understand at the time that was attracting me to my friend at Howard, the chap from the Virgin Islands. And so I guess partly out of fascination and partly out of convenience in the sense that that bar, that rathskeller, was only a block from the YMCA in Lancaster and I wasn't particularly interested in exploring other places in the town. I guess those would be the reasons.
MS: Did you talk to a lot of people there?
JH: I wouldn't say a lot, but I talked to a number of people. Got invited to parties and things like that. But as I said, I did not become involved with anyone.
MS: And do you remember what your self-conception was? Were you thinking, at that point, "I'm gay"? Were you thinking, "I'm bisexual"?
JH: No I wasn't. I wasn't thinking at that point that I'm gay. And neither was I thinking so much in terms of being bisexual. I guess the best way to put it is that I was not that stimulated by sex or sexuality. I mean I had always been a strong student in high school and college. In college I was more interested in running the newspaper than in becoming physically involved with anyone. So I was, I guess the expression is a late bloomer, as far as sexual experience is concerned.
MS: And now, I imagine given the time period and given your interest in journalism, that you must have been caught up in the swirl of political struggles in the 1960s at some level.
JH: Well at some level, yeah. I never participated in any marches or anything like that but in my capacity as editor of the Howard University newspaper I did stories on the Freedom Rides in the summer of 1961. And Stokely Carmichael was a classmate of mine and there were a number of other people at Howard at that time who had been in Mississippi and other places on the Freedom Rides. So my contribution was to report their stories.
MS: Right. And did any of that continue when you were at Brown and when you first moved to Philadelphia?
JH: Not really.
MS: So I guess now we're at the end of '65 and you moved to Philadelphia and started teaching at Temple.
JH: Well actually no. When I moved to Philadelphia in '65, I was doing research.at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society. And in fact it was in the course of doing that research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that I met a couple of professors from Temple who were also doing research. And eventually they asked me if I'd be interested in a job teaching at Temple. And I quickly said yes, because once my graduate research fellowship ran out I had no expectation of income and the thought of going back home and being dependent on mother and dad again did not appeal to me at all. So when I was offered the job at Temple, I gladly took it.
MS: And you moved, you told me before, in 1966 to Washington Square.
JH: Mhmmm [assent].
MS: And what was that neighborhood like at that point? I know Washington Square had undergone a lot of change.
JH: Yeah. To the best of my recollection, it was considered a good neighborhood at that time. And Hopkinson House was considered one of the best, if not the best, apartment buildings in Philadelphia. There was quite a mix of people in the building, both racially and in terms of class background. Everybody would have checked in, I suppose, at middle class level, but there were some people who clearly were doing better than middle class and they had large apartments and that sort of thing. It was a very pleasant place to live and a very convenient place for me because all I had to do was to walk across the Square to 8th and Market and get the Ridge Avenue subway, which eventually came into Broad Street and you get right up to Temple in very short order.
MS: And can you tell me something about your first encounters with gay life in Philadelphia?
JH: Yeah. The friends that I had met in Lancaster gave me a list of bars. And they said. "Now if you decide you want to go out, these are the places that you should look into." So I moved to Philadelphia and stayed at the central YMCA on Arch Street, again dumb me not being aware of what was, or at least not knowing in advance what was going on. Didn't take long to become aware of what was going on. And so one weekend I took out this list and the first place on the list happened to be a bar called the Westbury at 15th and Spruce. And I thought, "Well 15th and Spruce, that's pretty close, I don't think I can get lost going down there." So I walked down to 15th and Spruce, eyeballed the place to make sure it looked decent, but I had to walk around the block a couple times until I got my courage up to go in. And I started going there on the weekends and I met people.
MS: What kind of place was the Westbury?
JH: It was a very popular bar. Probably it was the most popular gay bar in Philadelphia at that time. This was before the dawn of the disco age and that sort of thing and I remember the Westbury had sawdust on the floor and there was a big spit. And there was a guy named Lou who used to tend to roasting these big pieces of beef. And he would make very delicious sandwiches.
MS: And was it all men?
MS: Or some women as well?
JH: No, it was all men.
MS: All men? And what about racially?
JH: A lot of college students from Penn and elsewhere went there, too. There was a period, it must have been about '69 or '70 or thereabouts, I mean they must have been making money hands over fist because that bar was packed by 11 o'clock every night. I mean it was just SRO [standing room only] and people squeezing by to get through while cruising around to see who else was there.
MS: And was it mixed racially?
JH: Yeah, it was mixed. More white than Black, but there were a number of Blacks who came in without any problems as far as the management was concerned. Sometimes if you tried to talk to a white guy you would get some attitude and so you quickly stopped talking to him and moved on. But as far as the bar itself was concerned, as long as you conducted yourself in a good manner, it didn't matter who you were. I mean I got to know the owner of the bar
MS: Who was the owner?
JH: David Morgan.
MS: And what do you know about him? Was he gay?
JH: No, no he was not.
MS: And had he owned the bar for a long time as far as you knew?
JH: I'm not sure but I think he had owned it by this point for about five or six years. And by this point I mean by November of '65.
MS: Now if we could go back for a second to the Y. You said that was the Arch Street Y? Is that right?
JH: Mhmmm [assent].
MS: And you said something about realizing what was going on. What was going on?
JH: Well, at about five o'clock on Friday afternoons, the various odors of cologne would come wafting through the halls and some of this cologne was on the bodies of people who had come down from New York for a weekend in Philadelphia. Some of the cologne emanated from the bodies of Philadelphia people who lived at the Y. And I also remember that you could walk down the hall and occasionally there would be a door ajar and some young man would be lying across his bed with only a towel over his backside. So I guess that was a kind of come on, I suppose you would call it. Whoever might happen to want to wander in. It got to be so active that eventually they put a guard at the elevator and anybody who went up in the elevator had to show their key to indicate that they were bonafide residents of the Y.
MS: This was in the late '60s. Is that right?
JH: Mhmmm [assent].
MS: And do you remember some of the other bars on the list that your friends gave you?
JH: Yeah. There was a place called the Allegro, which was on Spruce Street between Broad and 15th, and there was also a bar which it turned out I grew to like very much. Unfortunately we don't have anything like it in Philadelphia now. It was the Drury Lane, and the Drury Lane was located on Drury Street, which is the little street between Chestnut and Sansom. And it was an elegant bar. They had a coat and tie policy at that time and they charged a little more for their drinks. They made very good drinks and they charged a little more. It seemed to me and to others that they were trying to control the kind of people who went in there by charging a little more than most places did for their drinks. But they always had fresh-cut flowers every day and a wonderfully stocked jukebox. Occasionally they would have someone playing the piano at cocktail time. It was just a delightful place to be. And the physical setting was very good, too. Beautiful paneled woodwork with these various niches in which they would put the tall vases of flowers. I got to know at least one of the bartenders very, very well. Nothing was going on between us, but I just got to know him over the years. He was a guy named Al Wachter, who eventually retired from that job and went up to Provincetown and opened a guest house. He's no longer with us unfortunately.
MS: Was the Drury Lane also all men?
JH: Yes. It was an interesting establishment. Above the bar there was an excellent restaurant called the Café le Fitte. And mind you this is before the renaissance in Philadelphia restaurants that accompanied the approach of the Bicentennial. So that restaurant, the Café le Fitte, attracted all sorts of people from all over Philadelphia. And usually when it got reviewed in the newspaper, in addition to saying what a high quality place it was, they would have a little note: "And the bar downstairs is a gentleman's bar and there are separate entrances for the restaurant and the bar." But it really was a nice place. It started to go downhill, though, when the owner of it, by the early '70s, was running scared of the new disco-type places that were open. So he did something which a number of us thought was absolutely horrendous. He covered the beautiful flocked wallpaper in the restaurant section. He covered it with what looked like aluminum foil and, after the second sitting every evening, they would put on music and expect people to come and dance. Well it didn't succeed because the people who liked the Drury Lane were not interested in going to discos and things like that. And people who liked discos weren't particularly interested in coming to the Drury Lane.
MS: Do you remember what his name was?
JH: Oh goodness. I know it, but I'm blocking it right now. Maybe it'll come to me.
MS: Was he gay himself?
JH: Yes, yes.
MS: You mentioned also the Allegro. Did you sometimes go there as well?
JH: Occasionally. I didn't like the Allegro as much as I liked the Westbury or the Drury Lane. It just seemed to be different kind of people that went there. And I guess I would say that I thought they were rather lower in class status than the people who went to the Westbury or to the Drury Lane. But as I mentioned, in '69 and '70 the Westbury went through a great period of popularity in which by eleven o'clock every night it was packed. And the big thing at the Drury Lane was the Wednesday cocktail hour, when it would be very, very packed. And that was where one went to meet one's friends for a drink during the week. It was just a very pleasant place. I have very happy memories both of the bar and of the restaurant. I didn't eat at the restaurant that often because it was upscale by Philadelphia's standards at that time. So it wasn't the kind of place that you would go on a regular basis. But they often had very first-class entertainment there. too. I remember hearing Mabel Mercer play and sing at the Drury Lane.
MS: Were there any Black gay bars that you went to?
JH: Yeah, there was at least one predominantly Black gay bar, and gosh I'm blocking.
MS: I can try out two names if you can't remember. Was it Spider Kelly's or the Ritz?
JH: It was the Ritz. But now that you mention Kelly's, I remember that. But I had a sense from what I heard about it that neither of them was my kind of place. Not for any racial reasons, but just because of the atmosphere and some of the kind of people who went there. I had a friend at that time who used to go to the Ritz with some frequency and wanted me to go, too. Told me I should stop being such a stick in the mud and go to the Ritz with him. So I agreed to go on one occasion and I was very uncomfortable there. I remember that. And I got particularly uncomfortable and left when this guy walked in and you could see that he had a gun, a shoulder holster I guess it was. You could see the butt of the gun sticking out from his suit. And so I said to my friend, "Well, that's it for me. I know this is not my kind of place."
MS: Anything on South Street that you ever went to?
JH: No. I can't recall anything on South Street. At that time, now we're still talking late '60s, early '70s, South Street was kind of ragged. Partly because there was talk at that time of building a midtown expressway. And the plan was to tear down the south side of South Street. And so a lot of merchants had gotten out. A lot of the buildings were abandoned along South Street. Again, South Street didn't revive until two things happened. First, the city decided not to build the crosstown or midtown expressway because they got a lot of flack from people in South Philadelphia who felt that such an expressway would cut them off from the center of the city. And then the second thing that happened that contributed to what I would call the South Street renaissance was the anticipation of the Bicentennial. And a lot of businesses opened in that atmosphere. Places like the Black Banana and some of the other places along there. But in the late '60s and very early '70s, South Street was a kind of wasteland actually.
MS: Were there any other gay restaurants or coffeeshops in Center City that you ever used to go to in the '60s? I know you mentioned the Drury Lane, but were there any others?
JH: No. The Drury Lane was the only gay, oh, I'm sorry, I take that back. I'm almost forgetting the name of the oldest gay bar, at least I'm told it was the oldest gay bar in Philadelphia: Maxine's? And I would go there to eat occasionally.
MS: What kind of place was that?
JH: It was a place that seemed to attract people who were into theater and musicals and things like that. It wasn't that far, of course, from the Forrest Theater. And I think a lot of people used to rendezvous there after the performances. Otherwise, I don't remember that it had a particular distinction. I certainly don't think that it ranked with the Drury Lane.
MS: And I know there were a number of after-hours clubs in Philadelphia. Did you ever go to any of those?
JH: Yes. I went to a place called the USA&A. It stood for the Uniform Social and Athletic Association. And probably the most distinctive thing I remember about that is that they had this black lighting. And god forbid that anybody had the least bit of lint or dust on their clothing, because it would just sort of glow. And the lighting distorted people's facial features, too. It was really kind of dark in there and you couldn't see things. At least I couldn't see things very clearly. And I mean sometimes its lighting made individuals look like the devil incarnate.
MS: And the same kind of people as went to the bars or was it a different type?
JH: No, it was the same kind of people who went to the bars. So that was the first after-hours club I went to and then the second after-hours club that I went to was the Penrose Club, which was on Locust Street between Broad and 15th, closer to the corner of 15th, which had actually been a legitimate men's club. That's not to say it was illegitimate afterwards. But there had been a Penrose Club for many years. And I think it began as a men's club for upscale gentlemen. And then presumably some other interest took over the name and the property and it became an after-hours club.
MS: So were you a member of either of those clubs?
JH: Yes. Well I was a member only for a short period, as far as USA&A is concerned, but for a longer period, in fact I was almost a charter member of the Penrose Club. I think I was there the second night that they opened.
MS: And could you tell me something in both cases about whether there were lesbians in those clubs or was it just men?
JH: It was just men.
MS: And the same kind of racial mix as the other places you described?
JH: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Predominantly white, but not exclusively?
JH: Yeah. That's right, that's right. Now that reminds me, going back for a minute to the other place I mentioned on Spruce Street, the Allegro. I have to say that that was a place in which I felt a little racial tension. I've already mentioned that the class of people who went there seemed to be a little lower down in the social structure. I do remember feeling uncomfortable sometimes when I went there, a feeling that I never had, say, at the Westbury or the Drury Lane.
MS: And was it fewer non-whites? Was that part of it or was it things that you heard?
JH: It was things that I heard and attitudes of bartenders and things like that. And what they did eventually, they started, and this was sometime in the '70s, in the last three or four years of the Allegro's existence, they apparently had a quota on the number of Blacks that they would allow in there. And when they had reached the number, the quota, they would tell subsequent Black guys who would try to come in, "Oh you have to have a photograph identification from the LCB [Liquor Control Board]." I never even knew one person who had such an ID. But apparently there was a law on the books, which they could selectively enforce.
MS: Did you experience that yourself?
JH: No, I did not experience that personally.
MS: And were you ever in a bar or a club that was raided by the police?
MS: And again, maybe in this period of the late '60s, second half of the '60s, I'm wondering if you felt at the time or feel now that Philadelphia had a gay neighborhood and what that neighborhood was.
JH: Yeah. I would say that along Spruce Street and Pine Street from Broad over to about 20th or 21st could be defined as the gay mecca of Philadelphia. A lot of the gay men lived in that rectangle.
MS: And does that include Rittenhouse Square, would you say, or not?
JH: Yes, it would include Rittenhouse Square.
MS: Was there an active scene at Rittenhouse Square that you remember?
JH: I heard that there was. I used to hear that there was a kind of active scene there but I never was involved with that.
MS: What about Washington Square?
JH: Oh no. There was nothing going on that I knew about in Washington Square.
MS: And residentially, not in your part of Center City? Was it not particularly gay around Washington Square?
JH: Well, there were a number of gay people who lived in the Hopkinson House, where I lived. But I would not describe the general neighborhood as being particularly gay. Now when I lived in the 900 block of Lombard Street, there were also a number of gay people who lived along Lombard Street and on Hutchinson Street and some of the other streets that ran perpendicular to Lombard. But again, the density was nowhere like the density of that Spruce and Pine Street strip that I mentioned earlier.
MS: What about a commercial area? Was there a kind of different area where most of the bars and restaurants were clustered?
JH: They were kind of spread out. For example, the Westbury was at 15th and Spruce. The Allegro was on Spruce, fairly close to Broad. And then on the other side of Broad Street, that is the east side of Broad Street, you had some bars and clubs. In fact all the clubs were on the east side of Broad Street. And then in later years there was another bar that opened west of Broad Street. That was the Steps.
MS: And were you aware in the '60s of any of the gay political groups that had started up? The Janus Society, Clark Polak, Drum magazine, anything like that?
JH: Yes. And I knew the man who, if I'm not mistaken, was the first editor of the Philadelphia Gay News, Steve Kuromiya, if I remember that name correctly. And we would talk about issues and that sort of thing. So I was aware that there was a developing political movement.
MS: And just to go back to the neighborhoods, there was one other thing I wanted to follow up. Any other areas of the city outside of Center City that you would have thought of in the '60s or in the '70s as gay?
MS: Just parts of Center City.
JH: Right. And most of my comings and goings were confined to Center City anyway. So I didn't know what was going on. Over the years I know there were one or two Puerto Rican gay bars that opened in North Philadelphia. I think I went to one of them once. But I wouldn't say that the neighborhood that they were located in was particularly gay or anything like that.
MS: Now I guess we left the trail a little while ago about your relationships. And I know that you told me before that you moved in '69 from Hopkinson House to 9th and Lombard.
JH: Mhmmm [assent].
MS: So in that period, the second half of the '60s and the early '70s, did you have any significant sexual relationships?
JH: Yeah, I would say that I did. In fact my roommate or apartment-mate on Lombard Street was also a gay man.
MS: Were you two involved?
JH: Yes. Yes.
MS: The whole time you lived together?
JH: Pretty much the whole time, yeah.
MS: And how had you met one another?
JH: In the Westbury, as a matter of fact.
MS: And what can you tell me about him?
JH: He is a musician, a very successful one, here in Philadelphia. Particularly involved in the conducting of orchestras for choral music and that sort of thing. He's still very active in Philadelphia. And we had a pretty good relationship. But this was a new thing for me. It was the first relationship that I had been involved in and it just after awhile got a bit too intense for me. And I just felt that I needed more space, I guess the expression is.
MS: And was he Black or white?
JH: He was white.
MS: And did that ever come up as an issue in the context of the relationship or not really?
MS: Some people have said that crossing the race line has historically been easier in the gay context than in the straight context. Would you give any credence to that?
JH: I would, yeah. I have often thought that myself. Aside from the particular bar, the Allegro, that I named, and I think the same thing would be true of the Steps, I think race relations were very easy in the bars. And there was clearly a lot of Black/white dating and that kind of thing. So it was not an unpleasant atmosphere from a racial perspective.
MS: And do you think that's true across class or do you think that's more exceptional because you were middle-class?
JH: My sense is that you were likely to run into racial attitudes and things like that if you were dealing with people who were less than middle class. I think middle and upper class people weren't concerned about that sort of thing.
MS: Now this relationship you had in the apartment, I'm curious if someone had walked in off the street into your apartment would they have known that two gay men lived there?
JH: I don't think so.
MS: There would have been nothing to tip them off?
JH: No, we didn't have feathers or things like that hanging up anywhere in the apartment.
MS: Would a gay man have looked around and said, "Oh yeah."
JH: I don't think so. I don't think so.
MS: And was he really the major relationship that you had in the '60s?
JH: Well '69 to '72.
MS: But there hadn't been anyone significant before that?
JH: No. No.
MS: Now what about in the '60s, relations between lesbians and gay men? So far what you've described would lead me to believe that you had very little to do with lesbians.
JH: That would be a correct statement. They didn't come to the gay bars. And I remember people saying that as far as lesbian bars were concerned, they weren't welcoming to men. So it was really, I felt, two different worlds.
MS: Do you remember the first lesbian you met that you had any kind of a significant encounter with?
JH: I don't think so. I really can't remember the first lesbian that I ever met. Barbara Gittings came out to Swarthmore on a couple of occasions to give lectures. And we got to be on a first name basis. We weren't intimate friends by any stretch of the imagination. And I guess I would have to say that she was the first lesbian that I knew about.
MS: Would that have been in the '70s?
JH: The very early '70s.
MS: And did you ever hear attitudes expressed by the gay men who you knew about lesbians? Negative attitudes, positive attitudes, indifferent attitudes?
JH: I think indifference would be the best word to describe it.
MS: Some people have said gay men are misogynist. Some have said that they're feminist. Would you say neither necessarily?
JH: I don't think most gay men are misogynists. There are certainly some who are, but at least as far as my experience is concerned, the term misogynist would not apply to the majority of gay men I know.
MS: What about feminist?
JH: What about feminist?
MS: Would you say that the gay men you knew in that era were feminist in any way?
MS: I guess then maybe we can now move more fully into the '70s. What were the significant changes in your life after Stonewall? Did Stonewall have any significance or meaning for you? Or did you hear about it in any way?
JH: I heard about it and I guess like many other gay men I had a sense of pride that these men had stood up to harassment by the police and authorities. What I guess I most remember about the '70s is that the disco craze came in. And there was a place, Equis, that became the most popular bar in Philadelphia. I mean they were packed on the weekends.
MS: And where was that?
JH: If I remember correctly, on 12th Street between Locust and Spruce. On the west side of 12th Street between Locust and Spruce.
MS: And do you know who owned that?
JH: No I don't. No. It had been owned briefly before that by a gay man named Jerry Pepper. And it was called the Pepper Pot. But something happened and he was out of the picture as far as ownership. And in fact even before Jerry Pepper bought it, it was a regular restaurant, Leon Cavalos, an Italian restaurant that I went to on a couple of occasions. And it's now Hepburn's.
MS: So it's that location?
JH: Mhmmm [assent].
MS: Is that right? And what were the other big discos in town? Do you recall?
JH: There weren't that many. In fact the only one I can think of is Equis. Now of course when the disco craze came in, a lot of the after-hours clubs played disco music.
MS: Was Steps a disco?
JH: Maybe it's because I didn't go there that often, but I never saw that much dancing in the Steps. In fact we used to call it a posture bar because people would be posing. That's the word I want, a posing bar, because everybody seemed to be interested in standing around looking beautiful. And it was hard to talk to anybody. They did have a little restaurant upstairs. And I think that in later years there may have been some disco dancing there. But the Steps was not one of my favorite places, so I didn't go there that frequently.
MS: And did you like the disco scene?
JH: Yeah, I enjoyed it. Yeah. I loved to dance and so I would go almost every weekend, either on Friday or Saturday, to Equis and have a good time.
MS: And what were some of the big differences with disco culture from the culture of the gay bars before that?
JH: Well I guess I'd have to say that with the advent of the disco bars, and I'm not saying cause and effect, but propinquity, the drug scene started. Or maybe I'm using too strong a word. I mean people were using poppers and things like that. I never saw anybody sniffing cocaine or anything like that. And I think in general drugs were not a problem in the gay bars in Philadelphia. But poppers certainly were in in the disco bars in the '70s. And sometimes people would pop things under your nose without being invited to do that. I always hated that, I didn't like that. I've never been interested in any kind of non-medicinal drugs or anything like that. And I didn't like when somebody came along and popped something under your nose. MS: And you had moved out to Swarthmore, I think you told me before in, in '73.
JH: '73, yes.
MS: And did that make a difference in terms of your social life? Living out there?
JH: Not really because I was always the kind of person who thought that you should always save time for yourself in your own private enjoyment. Swarthmore, as you probably know, is a very intense kind of place. It was very easy to get wrought up and bound up in your work to the exclusion of other things. But I was determined that I was not going to fall into that pattern. So I made it a point every Wednesday to go into town. Usually I'd go to the Drury Lane for cocktail hour and then go out to dinner with friends.
MS: Did you go in on the weekends also?
JH: On weekends too, yeah.
MS: And any significant relationships after the ending of your relationship with the man you lived with on Lombard?
JH: Yeah, I had a relationship for a few years, three years, with someone I had actually met in South America, in Colombia. And he managed to get to the United States. And we had a three or four year relationship.
MS: And when was that? In the '70s?
JH: Yeah. We met in Colombia in 1973 and then he came to Philadelphia in 1974, as I recall. And he was a smart fellow, somewhat younger than me. And he managed to get into Swarthmore on his own merits. And the arrangement was that he would live with me and that would be my contribution to paying his costs. He had a scholarship and then I took care of the residency. And in fact when I moved into this house, he moved with me.
MS: Was there ever any trouble with school officials or with other professors about your involvement with a student?
JH: No, because I don't think anybody knew that there was any involvement.
MS: So was that in general true, that you kept your social life pretty separate from your personal life?
JH: Yes. Yes.
MS: And it sounds like you think that was a wise thing to do?
JH: I think so. I don't think the times were right then for people coming out publicly and things like that. Of course it's different now, including at Swarthmore. And I think everybody knows who the gay faculty are and the gay faculty members don't make any particular attempt to hide their sexuality.
MS: Let's see, you've mentioned a number of times the Bicentennial as a significant event in Philadelphia's history. Do you recall what you were doing around the time of the Bicentennial?
JH: Yeah. In fact I was very much involved with some of the planning activities for the city of Philadelphia. I was a consultant to the Philadelphia '76 Bicentennial Corporation, which was a kind of umbrella organization planning various activities in connection with the Bicentennial. And also I was one of the founders of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum at 7th and Arch. When we first started talking about something to commemorate Black Americans, particularly Black Philadelphians, the talk was to have some sort of exhibit that would be put up for the Bicentennial and then taken down as soon as the Bicentennial was over. And there were a number of us who felt that the Black history of Philadelphia was significant enough that we should have something more permanent coming out of the Bicentennial. And other people who were involved in the project and who had political connections with Frank Rizzo convinced him that yes, we should have a Black history museum. And that's how we got a Black history museum.
MS: And what kinds of things in Philadelphia Black history were you focusing on?
JH: Well of course there was a section on [W. E. B.] Dubois. We had some material on Dubois and Paul Robeson and other prominent Black Philadelphians. And using Dubois's Philadelphian Negro, we had maps showing where Blacks had lived in Philadelphia and many people were amazed that Blacks were very prominent in the area that is now Society Hill around 2nd and Pine, 2nd and Lombard.
JH: At the corner of 2nd and Pine, if I'm not mistaken, there's a home, and I think it's still standing, of a man named James Forten, F-O-R-T-E-N, who was a sail-maker and a very wealthy Black Philadelphian.
MS: Right. I've actually taught some about his wife and daughters.
JH: Charlotte Forten?
MS: Right, right. And I actually don't know the Paul Robeson connection. Was he a Philadelphian?
JH: Oh yes.
MS: Born here and raised here, is that it?
JH: As far as I know, yes.
JH: Mhmmm [assent].
MS: So where was the exhibit?
JH: Well the museum, as it turned out to be, opened where it still is now, on 7th and Arch. Northwest corner of 7th and Arch.
MS: So that's where the original exhibit was?
MS: And then it grew into the museum?
JH: Well there was not, see we talked him out of the exhibit idea and then talked him into doing something more permanent.'Cause as I said, the original plan was just to put up some sort of exhibit for the Bicentennial and then it would be taken down.
MS: So was that founded in 76?
JH: The museum opened in June of '76. And in fact they're just getting ready to celebrate their twentieth anniversary.
MS: And what was your role as a consultant to the Bicentennial Commission?
JH: Well to give them information dealing with Black history in general and the Black history of Philadelphia in particular. And then I served very briefly as the first associate director of the museum. And it was brief because I had developed this eye problem. I had a detached retina in the right eye and it proved to be a very difficult case. They had to operate five times at Wills Eye Hospital between June of '76 and March of '77. But because of that, I disconnected myself from the museum and I have not been involved in any official capacity since then.
MS: I see. Would any of those people have known that you were gay?
JH: I don't think so.
MS: I'm wondering if you had any contact with Marty Duberman at this time, because I've just been reading his new book and he talks about being hired to write a script for the celebration. And the script ended up not being accepted. Does this ring any kind of bells?
JH: No it doesn't frankly. I didn't know he had been contacted about writing a script. For the museum, you're saying?
MS: No, no. Not for the museum, but for the general Bicentennial.
JH: Oh no, this is the first I'm hearing of that. I'm trying to think where I first met Marty Duberman. I think we had him out to Swarthmore to give a lecture. And we got to know each other on that basis. And then I hear, not directly from him, but I know he's thinking about me from time to time because I get mailings from that center that he has established n New York.
MS: Were you recovering from your surgeries at the time of the main Bicentennial celebration.
JH: Yes I was.
MS: So you weren't part of either the celebration or the counter-protests or anything?
JH: No I was not. I guess the big thing I did for the museum was to be on the Today Show with some artifacts from the museum. They were doing a taping in Philadelphia for obvious reasons. And in fact it was while we were doing the taping that I realized that I was having a detached retina.
MS: Oh my.
JH: So I had to try to keep my cool during the taping. And as soon as the taping was over, I took the artifacts back to the museum and headed immediately for Wills Eye Hospital. And fortunately my doctor, my opthamologist, was still there that day. And he came down and they took me up and did a ultrasound thing and right away they said, "It's a detached retina."
MS: Who were the hosts of the Today Show at that time? Do you remember?
JH: I'm trying to remember. I thought that question might come up and I can't. It was whoever was just before Bryant Gumbel. Now Bryant started, if I'm not mistaken, in something like July of '76. So it was the person who immediately preceded him.
MS: I don't think I know. And were you involved at all in the struggle for the gay rights bill in Philadelphia in 1974?
JH: No I was not.
MS: So did you have any contact with the gay movement. You mentioned contact with Steve Kuromiya. Any other contacts?
JH: I wouldn't say that the contact with Steve was all that great. I mean I would see him primarily in the Westbury bar. And we would talk about issues of the day. But I was not politically involved and have not generally been politically active.
MS: Would you read about things, though, if not directly active?
JH: Oh yes. Yeah.
MS: What were some of the publications that you do remember reading?
JH: Mainly the Philadelphia Gay News. And then there was a thing that was published in New York, if I'm not mistaken. I would see that occasionally. But mainly it was Philadelphia Gay News.
MS: And I guess also in the mid-'70s, did you see much change with the rise of lesbian feminism in terms of lesbian and gay life? Were you aware at all of that movement?
JH: Not from personal experience. I mean I knew about it academically 'cause I had read some articles about it and things like that. But again, my recollection is that even through the '70s the worlds of gay men and lesbians were basically separate at that time.
MS: Well I'm wondering if there's anything else then about the '70s that we haven't touched on that you think were significant aspects of lesbian and gay history?
JH: I can't think of anything right now.
MS: Not much change in race relations, would you say, during that time?
JH: Well that's an interesting question because I had a sense and other other Black people had the same sense that by the mid- to late '70s race relations were not as easy as they had been in the '60s. Now I don't know whether it was because you're getting a new generation coming into the bars who thinks, oh, the Blacks got everything in the '60s and so they came in with certain attitudes. But I remember discussing it with a couple of friends of mine in the '70s, that there did seem to be something of a change in the '70s.
MS: Any particular incidents stand out in that regard?
JH: No, I can't cite any particular incident. Except that it was in the '70s that this quota thing at the Allegro [occurred], but the Steps also played those funny games, too, in the '70s. When a certain number of Blacks were in, then they would find ways of discouraging others from coming in. I remember one time I was headed to the Steps and I saw all these Black guys standing out front. And I said, "What's going on?" And they said, "They said we can't come in 'cause we don't have a certain kind of card that you need from the Liquor Control Board to get in." And it was quite clear that they were just deliberately trying to keep these guys out. And I think there was little to doubt that the main reason for their wanting to keep them out was that they were Black and there were already "enough" Blacks inside.
MS: What did you do at that point? Do you remember?
JH: Well I said to them, "Well I think you ought to complain about this if you think that the reason is as you say." I said, "Talk to the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission. That may be a good starting point." And then I did not go in. I went to another bar.
MS: Did you have a lot of friends during this time? It sounds like you've mentioned friends a number of times.
JH: I wouldn't say that I had a lot of friends. I had I guess what is best described as a set of friends, maybe involving ten people. And I socialized with them primarily.
MS: Well one thing I find in doing the oral histories is that I can often get a little picture of a group of people, rather than just an individual. So how would you characterize the group?
JH: Well it was a group, and we still stick together, those of us who are still living. It was a group primarily of professional people. There were two elementary school teachers, one college professor, a psychologist, and I'm forgetting somebody, a computer programmer. And we got together occasionally. Different ones of us would invite everybody for dinner at their home and that sort of thing. Or we would go meet for drinks or something at one or another of the bars. And we, of course, as individuals, those people had other friends, too, but we had our set, if you want to call it that. And I didn't really venture much beyond that set. I mean I wasn't antisocial or anything like that. I think I was always a very friendly kind of person. But I did meet some people who were nice to see occasionally at the bars, but I didn't want any further association with them because they were just very different in demeanor from the way I was.
MS: Was the group, the set that you're describing, were the rest of the men white?
JH: No. It was a mixed group. And as I think about it, most of the people in the group were involved in a Black/white relationship.
MS: Is that right? And do you think that's one of the things that bonded you all together?
JH: Well by that time I was not in a Black/white relationship. There are some people who have preferences. Some whites who have preferences for Blacks, some Blacks who have preferences for whites. I was never in one of those categories. I took people as individuals and it didn't matter to me whether they were white or Black. So over the years I had relationships of one sort of another with Black and with white men. And the relationship I'm in now, which has been going on since 1984, is with a Black man.
MS: And were the other people in the set in couples or in and out of couples?
JH: Most of them were pretty committed and so they were involved in long-term relationships.
MS: And mostly lived in the city?
JH: Yes. Yes. They all lived in the city.
MS: You were the exception?
JH: Right. Right.
MS: Coming in from the suburbs.
MS: And was your gay life pretty separate from your suburban life? Did the paths ever cross?
JH: No. I would say they were pretty separate.
MS: Well, as you know, my study is ending in 1976, but I also think of these oral histories as bigger than the material that I'm necessarily going to use. So I don't know if there are things that you want to say about the two decades after 1976 and the meaningful things that occurred.
JH: Well in my own case I would say that by the '80s I had had my fill of the bars and the discos. And that was something for the younger phase of my life. So by the '80s I was going distinctly less frequently to the bars. I relied primarily on the set of friends that I had and the kind of entertainment that we would do with each other. We would travel together and things like that.
MS: And that's continued into the '90s?
JH: Yes. And as I sit here this moment I couldn't tell you the last time I was in a bar. I think many people go through that phase. You've seen it and done it and then there's an end on it. And you move onto other things. I mean I always used to feel sorry for older men who I would see at the bars. And I knew that they were there every day drinking themselves silly. And I would often think, "Isn't it too bad that these guys don't have other interests that they could pursue." I mean the bar was their social life. It was the be all and end all of their lives when they were not at work. And I always thought that that was a pretty unfortunate situation.
MS: Well you've just described some age codes in the bar. I wonder also how important you think gender codes were. Was there a real visible presence of effeminate gay men and masculine gay men? And were you drawn to one or the other, either as friends or as lovers?
JH: Most of the men in the bars, as I remember, could be described as masculine. And if you met them on the street, you wouldn't necessarily know that they were gay. There were some people who were effeminate, some because it was just their way of being. Others do it for effect in the bar. But most of the men, I would say, were masculine looking. And I personally was always more attracted to very masculine acting men. I mean I think I'm not judgmental about that particular situation, but I just feel uncomfortable around the legendary flaming faggot because I don’t think that to be homosexual is necessarily to be effeminate or to want to be a woman or to act like a woman. So I've not tended to cultivate friendships with those people who do show a very effeminate character.
MS: Well maybe one overarching final question. Would you say that things have improved over the course of your gay memory, say from the '60s to the '90s? Things have gotten worse? Things are just different?
JH: Well I think things have gotten worse in one particular sense. I mean I feel sorry for young people who are coming out now and who have to worry about all these STDs [sexually-transmitted diseases] and things like that. I mean the most we had to worry about in the '60s and '70s would be, in terms of seriousness, would be to get syphilis. I mean people got gonorrhea and just went and had it taken care of. But I mean the AIDS situation has put a completely new cast on it. And I know that a lot of young gay men are feeling frustrated and are actually not doing anything because they're afraid that they will come down with some dreadful, dreadful disease. And so I think that there's been, from my perspective--I mean I may be all wrong about it)--a damper on gay life. At least the sexual part of it in the post, late '80s period.
MS: Any other final thoughts before we conclude this?
JH: No, I can't think of anything else that stands out particularly that I want to mention.
MS: Anything you think that's maybe distinctive about Philadelphia gay life, say, as opposed to other cities?
JH: Well I don't have that much of a comparison basis. I know Philadelphia best and I don't really know another city in the same way that I know Philadelphia. So it would be difficult for me to make a comparative judgment.
MS: Thank you very much.
JH: You're quite welcome.