After three unsuccessful campaigns, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. His election was a landmark event. The reason? Harvey Milk was gay, and his election was the first of an openly gay elected official in the United States. To win the election, Milk had to gain the support of all segments of his district. On election night, Harvey Milk reminded his supporters: "This is not my victory -- it's yours. If a gay man can win, it proves that there is hope for all minorities who are willing to fight."
Harvey Milk was born in 1930 in Woodmere, Long Island, New York. He graduated from New York College for Teachers, served four years in the US Navy, taught high school mathematics and history on Long Island and worked in finance in New York City. When he moved to San Francisco in 1972, he opened a camera store on Castro Street.
Milk's friends and associates remember him as an outgoing person with a keen sense of humor. A brilliant speaker and neighborhood leader, he was soon referred to as "the Mayor of Castro Street." He entered San Francisco politics by campaigning for supervisor as an openly gay candidate in 1973; he lost but won an impressive 17,000 votes. Milk then established the Castro Village Association of local merchants. He ran for supervisor in 1975 and lost again but Mayor George Moscone appointed Milk to the Board of Permit Appeals, making him the first openly gay commissioner in the country.
For an entire community, Harvey Milk is remembered as a hero, a martyr to a cause. After three unsuccessful campaigns, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a former police officer who had clashed with Milk over gay issues. Scott Smith (October 21, 1948 – February 4, 1995) was a gay rights activist best known for his romantic relationship with Harvey Milk.
In 1977, after district elections replaced citywide elections, Milk ran again for the post of supervisor and won. The first openly gay elected official, he was aware of the tremendous discrimination and prejudice that confronted gays and lesbians. Under his urging, the city council passed a Gay Rights Ordinance in 1978 that protected gays from being fired from their jobs. Milk championed the cause of those with little power against downtown corporations and real estate developers, campaigning especially hard for the rights of senior citizens.
Milk knew that his position as a San Francisco Supervisor advocating gay rights placed him in danger. Hate mail began to pour into his office. With chilling foresight Milk made a tape recording on November 18, 1977, with instructions to have it read only if he died by assassination. In it he says, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a former police officer who had clashed with Milk over gay issues. After shooting the mayor, White entered Milk's office and shot him five times at his desk.
At the trial, White's attorney used the "Twinkie" defense -- that too much junk food affected White's reasoning abilities. The jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to seven years, eight months for the two murders. Many San Franciscans were outraged at his light sentence. Demonstrations at City Hall erupted into riots on May 21, 1979 (the eve of what would have been Milk's 49th birthday), which became known as "White Night."
Harvey Milk left a legacy. He profoundly influenced gay and lesbian politics, and was also a champion of human rights. Milk once said, "...you've got to keep electing gay people...to know there is better hope for tomorrow. Not only for gays, but for blacks, Asians, the disabled, our senior citizens and us. Without hope, we give up. I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it life is not worth living. You and you and you have got to see that the promise does not fade." His martyrdom is a painful reminder of the length and difficulty of the journey to freedom.
Joseph Scott Smith (October 21, 1948 – February 4, 1995) was a gay rights activist best known for his romantic relationship with Harvey Milk.
Smith was born in Key West, Florida and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. He then attended Memphis State University.
Smith was instrumental to Milk's career as an activist and politician. He organized and managed Milk's campaigns for public office from 1974 to 1977 and his influence was widely in evidence after Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Smith was well known for orchestrating the Coors Beer boycott and putting Milk at the forefront of the issue, creating one of the first public displays of power by the gay community.
There are hundreds of images of Smith, taken by Milk and others, in the Harvey Milk Archives/Scott Smith Collection at the San Francisco Public Library. After being discharged from the United States Navy, Milk spent many hours taking pictures. Smith was his favorite model; sometimes Milk spent entire rolls of film just taking pictures of Smith.
Smith fell into a very deep depression after Milk was killed. He was the executor of Milk's last will and testament.
Smith died of pneumonia stemming from AIDS on February 4, 1995 at the age of 46.
In the 2008 feature film Milk, the role of Scott Smith was played by James Franco.
The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition edition (October 14, 2008)
Amazon: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk
Known as “The Mayor of Castro Street” even before he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk’s personal life, public career, and final assassination reflect the dramatic emergence of the gay community as a political power in America. It is a story full of personal tragedies and political intrigues, assassinations at City Hall, massive riots in the streets, the miscarriage of justice, and the consolidation of gay power and gay hope.
Harvey Milk has been the subject of numerous books and movies, including the Academy Award–winning 1984 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk. His life is also the basis of a 2008 major motion picture, Milk, starring Sean Penn.
Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk by Dustin Lance Black (Introduction) & Armistead Maupin (Foreword)
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Newmarket Press (January 13, 2009)
Amazon: Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk
This official illustrated companion book features oral histories, archival photographs, behind-the-scenes stills, and the story of the new Focus Features film directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho), starring Academy Award(r) winner Sean Penn (Mystic River, Dead Man Walking) as gay-rights icon Harvey Milk.
His life changed history. His courage changed lives. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into major public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans.
Part I, "The History," covering Milk's life in New York pre-1973 through his death in San Francisco in 1978, features: * a brief history of Harvey Milk * 90 historical photos * and recollections from Milk's many activist friends in his Castro Street neighborhood, campaigns and eventual victory, Prop 6 protests, the Gay Freedom Day Parade, and Harvey Milk's enduring legacy.
Part II, "The Movie," details the making of the film, and includes: * commentary by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who was on the set every day * movie stills, side-by-side with the historical photos they re-create * and behind-the-scene shots of the real historical characters who consulted on or appeared in the film.
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