By Gaby Hale, Outreach Archivist at Rose Library
Last summer, the National Archives of the United Kingdom tweeted: “We only know that it’s the hottest day on record because of archival records. Let that fact sink in.” While it was meant to be a bit humorous, it stuck with me. We only know that an event occurred because there is a record of it. We only know that certain people existed because there is documented proof. Without records, we as a society can lose all memory of certain groups of people, phenomena, or events.
Throughout the history of the archival field, the preservation of records from certain groups of people has been prioritized over others. When you visit many archives, you will see evidence of this in the large number of collections related to wealthy white men. In more recent decades, there has been a shift in the field to collect more broadly so that we can represent and remember more than just one group for future generations. At Rose Library, this shift included creating LGBT Collections that documents the LGBTQIA+ community.
Just like every community, the LGBTQIA+ community is multifaceted. As a result, we aim to collect papers that showcase every aspect of the community, from its activists to its artists. The Rose Library’s LGBTQIA+ political collections document the work of activists, organizations, and trailblazing political figures to achieve equality. The social and cultural collections include the personal papers of artists and writers as well as the records of social organizations and businesses. It also includes rare books, pamphlets, and periodicals written by and for the LGBTQIA+ community.
In honor of Pride Month, we are currently featuring several stories from our LGBT Collections on our social media. This campaign includes the papers of David Lowe, an Emory student who spent his college years advocating for AIDS/HIV awareness and action. His collection, which was gifted to Rose Library in 2007, documents his involvement with activist groups, including his protesting at the Center for Disease Control during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Another collection we’re highlighting is the Kenneth South papers. Acquired in 2016, the papers of Ken South tell the real-life story of a HIV/AIDS activist and reverend in the 1990s through the present. Ken’s career has included work in the areas of the interfaith community, the AIDS community and the aging community. The papers specifically document his work in the 1980s & 1990s with AID Atlanta and the AIDS Interfaith National Network.
The Rebecca Ranson papers, along with the Southeastern Arts, Media & Education Project (Atlanta, Ga.) records, show another side of the LGBTQIA+ community. Rebecca was born in 1943 and was a southern lesbian author, activist, and playwright of over thirty plays. Her play, Warren, was one of the first plays concerning AIDS to be produced and was written after her friend, Warren Johnston, died of AIDS in April 1984. In the late 1980s, she became executive director of the Southeastern Arts, Media and Education Project (SAME), a multi-arts organization for the gay and lesbian community in Atlanta, Georgia. Her papers document the life of this artistic woman, along with the queer community in Atlanta.
Lastly, we are highlighting the important work of students in making Emory a safer and more welcoming environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals. The Office of Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Life records documents student groups, including the ongoing actions of those groups to ask Emory to include sexuality in the university’s Equal Opportunity Policy in the 1980s.
These are just four collections that we preserve and promote from Rose Library’s LGBT Collections. The records of the LGBTQIA+ community are important. These papers tell the stories of students who demand change, of artists who use their works to show people that they are not alone, and of leaders who devote their whole lives to creating a better world for everyone. The records also show that LGBTQIA+ people have always existed and will continue to exist. While we are proud of the work that has already been done to create this collection, we recognize and appreciate how much more we must do.
If you are interested in supporting our work of collecting, preserving, and promoting these collections, please consider donating to our MARBL LGBT Fund. Through this fund, we aim to build an LGBT oral history program, fund a permanent LGBT archivist position, purchase unique materials for the collection, and more!