Jeff Graubart: A Conspiracy Unraveled, My 17 Day Urbana Sit-in, March, 1976

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My 17 Day Urbana Sit-in


Mask201.jpg The Cast - Major players identified. Actual historical figures on left.

Jeff Graubart, Member Gay Rights Action Coalition, Narrator Dave Rosen
Hiram Paley, Mayor of Urbana Manny Singer
Toby Schneiter, Member Gay Rights Action Coalition Ellen Schrader
Nancy Davis, Member Gay Rights Action Coalition Samantha Darwin
Reid Smith, Gay Illini Supporter Simon Sawyer
John Peterson, I-Progressive Urbana Alderman Joel Sandberg
Bill Bland, Mayor of Champaign Bill Young
Duane Eckerty, Urbana City Clerk Wayne Picardy

Years ago, I cried watching the movie Ragtime as Coalhouse Walker Jr. replayed the scenes from my life. To preserve his dignity when some racist firefighters wrecked his car, he ultimately gave his own life.

When the Urbana cop said, "No faggot can bring charges against a real man without defaming his character," like Coalhouse Walker, I tried to get justice and failed. With each failure, those words stole another piece of my soul. I continued to sink deeper into the pit of drug addiction, mental instability and desperation. Those words came to symbolize my reason for being.

Between Larry Gulian's sabotage of the march on Washington conference and my obsession with the Urbana cop, I spent two years in Chicago's gay political community, unleashing my rage. Readers of The Quest for Brian can decide whether I was more hero or villain. Ultimately, I tried to escape the demons and fled to my parent's house in California, but there was no way out, so I opted to return to Urbana and find justice or die trying.

This is the most embarrassing and difficult-to-relive part of my life. My press release uses hyperbole such as "psychopathic vegetable" and "diseased ravaged mind." The sit-in in Urbana is the only part of my novel where the truth is weirder than the fiction and I toned down the mental illness because it was too difficult to write. But the actual press releases and newspaper articles are included in this exhibit.

Arrival in Urbana


Dramatization of Arrival at the Urbana City Building[2]

Newspaper accounts, days later, have City Attorney Franks allowing me to stay in the foyer and getting me bathroom privileges in the police station, but that is incorrect. He became the fall guy for the mayor when the political firestorm erupted.

When I heard that Urbana had passed the gay rights bill a year earlier, albeit a watered down version, I almost decided to return home victorious. But there were still questions of who the Urbana cop was and why the grand jury cover-up.

Press Release Initiating the Sit-in[3]

A good summary of the events from the Wigwam demonstration to the start of the sit-in. Poor spelling and much hyperbole, but otherwise accurate.

Demonstrator Awaits Justice[4]

Good article by Pat Wingert, now Washington correspondent for Newsweek

At Home in City Hall


Dramatization of At Home In City Hall[6]

The conversations are mostly fictional although I believe they accurately reflect what might have been said by the people mentioned. The man and woman who brought me the mattress are composites of several people. I identify them as coming from the Earthworks Collective and later news articles identify them as coming from Gemini House, a substance abuse center. One of those involved in providing assistance was Terry Cosgrove, now president and CEO of Personal PAC. He was a good friend of Reid Smith, who appears shortly and is a major character in the novel. The people who brought me food are fictional composites. There was no suspicious man with a potentially poison tuna casserole, but there were a few instances of food I felt better throwing away.

Letter to the editor of the Daily Illini, by Bill Warren played by Bobby Henderson in the novel, attacking my sit-in tactic and giving his own take on the matter

Days in City Hall


Dramatization of Statute of Limitations[7]

An accurate synthesis of several conversations held at the time. According to news reports, including a later press release from the Gay Rights Action Coalition, I allowed the social worker to take me to Mercy Hospital for an evaluation, but I have no recollection of this.


Dramatization of Reid Smith and the Gay Illini[8]

There are some inconsistencies between this account and the Gay Rights Action Coalition press release. Apparently, I met with Reid Smith on March 6th, the day after the Gay Illini meeting with Mayor Bland, not March 10th as depicted in the novel. The press release reported a March 10th emergency meeting between GRAC and the Gay Illini calling for a grand jury investigation indicating there was less hostility from the Gay Illini over my sit-in than in the dramatization. A news story from 1977 when the Champaign gay rights bill finally passed showed Bland's public statements on gay rights were less supportive than those he gave to the Gay Illini, although he did cast the tie-breaking vote.


Dramatization of GRAC Demonstration[9]

Reggie plays the role of Clarence Fletcher in earlier scenes from 1972 and 1973. In this dramatization, his role and story is purely fictional and a composite of another character. Maura, Mollie and Janet are all based on real people, all three of whom play significant roles in Chicago gay politics but are only peripheral here. Their characters are exaggerated in the novel. Nancy Davis' paranoia that Reid Smith was a police agent is not exaggerated.


Dramatization of Shower Break at Reid Smith's[10]

Described to the best of my recollection and only incidental to the history.

Notice how Mayor Paley neither confirms nor denies that the officer involved was the son of Urbana City Clerk Duane Eckerty.[11]

The Truth That Set Me Free


Dramatization of Meeting with John Peterson[12]

The actual date of the meeting with John Peterson was four days earlier, on Thursday, March 11th, based on news accounts. In the telephone conversation with Toby Schneiter afterwards, a reference is made to an assassination attempt against me in 1972 when I was living in the dormitory. This is a true story and is mentioned in several of the dramatizations throughout this exhibit but is omitted from the exhibit itself.

Learning that the cop who falsely arrested Bill Stanley and I, on the charge that no faggots can bring charges against a real man without defaming his character, was Floyd "Butch" Eckerty, son of Urbana City Clerk Duane Eckerty, went a long way in resolving the mystery that had haunted me for years. It provided a pre-condition for a cover-up by the States Attorney, although not the actual reason, especially since States Attorney Lawrence Johnson was a Democrat and Duane Eckerty, a Republican.


Dramatization of City Council Meeting[13]

It is true that I remained in the foyer during the council meeting because Reid Smith failed to bring me fresh clothes and deodorant. I believe the BO fetish part is fictionalized, although Reid was very big on gays being rugged.


Dramatization of Failed Hearts[14]

The newspaper articles mentioned in the dramatization are not in my archives. The Daily Illini article to the left mentions Floyd Picardy being released from the hospital. The accuracy of this dramatization needs to be backed up by those articles before it should be accepted as history.

It would take me several days to understand the life-lesson in the heart attacks of Duane Eckerty and his son. But I knew early on that if fate had brought me to Urbana for a reason, it had been realized and the sit-in would soon be coming to an end.

The Vigilantes of Urbana


Dramatization of Threats[15]

The dramatization of the threats is true to the best of my recollection. From the news accounts and GRAC press release, it appears that Alderman Peterson, among others, demanded that I receive police protection.

Phone Call Threatens Man In Lobby[16]

This article has a number of inaccuracies. It was William Stanley who was beaten by the assailant, not me. It was the Mayor who authorized bathroom privileges at the police station, not City Administrator Franks.



Dramatization of Mayor Paley Returns Early[18]

Although I speculated to Mayor Paley that there was some kind of deal to effect the Picardy cover-up, which he neither confirmed nor denied, the theory about the mayoral race did not occur to me until I returned to Chicago. The exchange about the second cop is also fictionalized, but the rest of the dramatization is true to the best of my recollection.

It was clear that the entire City of Urbana, save a few radicals, wanted me out of City Hall one way or another. And they also wanted the head of Mayor Paley.

There isn't a shred of hard evidence that the candidates for the 1973 Urbana mayoral election were selected as part of an Eckerty cover-up deal. I included the possibility in my novel because it would be the most ironic mayoral election in U.S. history. My apologies to Hiram Paley and the late Ruth Brookens.


Dramatization of Arrest[19]

Accurate to the best of my recollection.


Dramatization of Jail[20]

Some of the conversation about individuals between Nancy Davis, Toby Schneiter and me is fictionalized. The rest is true to the best of my recollection.

As I ate the great fried chicken dinner the night of my arrest, the cops joked to Nancy and Toby about the carrot and the stick. The harrassment I experienced in Champaign County Jail on Monday had to be the stick. Despite the repeated death threats I got from many of the inmates, nobody laid a hand on me after they initially threw me in the shower. It had to be a set-up. When Clarence Fletcher and I were in the same cellblock four years earlier for a gay rights sit-in, the inmates were mostly friendly, except the Muslim who had Clarence braid his hair because "that's what fags are good for." Returning as a celebrity, I should have been untouchable. But just about every inmate had to get in their anti-gay death threat as though extra rations depended on it.

Graubart Vigil Ends[21]

This article has several inaccuracies. Once arrested, I went voluntarily with the police. I was not carried. It was William Stanley and William Warren who were attacked by the assailants, not me, and it was 4 days earlier, not 10 days earlier as stated in the article. It also quotes Mayor Paley as fearing for my safety in Champaign County Jail.

Graubart Arrested For Trespassing[22]

Gay Rights Action Coalition Press Release March 25th[23]

This press release tells a good story, although there are discrepancies between this account and others in this exhibit, both dramatizations and news articles.

A Wanted Man


Dramatization of My Sentence[24]

Reid Smith joined me on the return trip to Chicago and joined the Gay Rights Action Coalition.

What had tortured me for the previous four years had likewise torn at the very soul of the City of Urbana. Seeing my nemesis as a frail human being was, likewise, a growth experience. My showdown with fate ended a lot better than the showdown of Coalhouse Walker Jr. The 17 day sit-in turned out to be successful therapy. My rages dissipated and mental health improved. For the first time I was able to deal diplomatically with those in the Chicago gay political community who did not see things from my perspective.

But it was not a normal life that awaited me in Chicago. Urbana was just another step on the journey to my destiny: June 14th, 1977.

Exhibit Page Links


  1. Pat Wingert 1976, Demonstrator awaits justice on city streets, Daily Illini, March 3rd, Front section
  2. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:13-17
  3. Graubart, Jeff, 2007, Archives, File1976-2, Sit-in in Urbana
  4. Pat Wingert 1976, Demonstrator awaits justice on city streets, Daily Illini, March 3rd, Front section
  5. John Smetana 1976, Phone calls threaten man in lobby, The Courier, March 19th, Front section
  6. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:18-22
  7. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:22-23
  8. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:23-26
  9. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:26-29
  10. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:29-31
  11. Dave Johnson 1976, Statute may bar Graubart recovery, Daily Illini, March 13th, Front section
  12. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:32-35
  13. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:35-37
  14. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:37-38
  15. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:38-42
  16. John Smetana 1976, Phone calls threaten man in lobby, The Courier, March 19th, Front section
  17. Anonymous 1976, Graubart May Participate In Diversion Program, News-Gazette, March 26th, Front section
  18. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:43-45
  19. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:45-47
  20. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:47-51
  21. Matt O'Conner 1976, Jeffrey Graubart Vigil Ends In Arrest At Urbana Building, News-Gazette, March 20th, Front section
  22. Anonymous 1976, Graubart arrested for trespassing, Daily Illini, March 20th, Front section
  23. Graubart, Jeff, 2007, Archives, File1976-2, Sit-in in Urbana
  24. Graubart, Jeff. 2009. The Quest for Brian, 4th Draft,9:51-53

Contact Person

Jeff Graubart


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