David Carter, a Historian of Stonewall, Is Dead at 67


David Carter, whose careful research into the Stonewall Inn uprising of 1969, a pivotal event in gay rights history, culminated in an authoritative book on the subject and helped win the area in Greenwich Village where the episode occurred a listing in the National Register of Historic Places, died on May 1 at his home in Manhattan. He was 67.

His brother, William, said the cause was a heart attack.

Mr. Carter’s best-known book, “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution,” was published in 2004, when a younger generation might not have fully appreciated how oppressive life was for gay men and women in the New York of the 1960s. Mr. Carter conjured the times bluntly.

“By 1966 over one hundred men were arrested each week for ‘homosexual solicitation’ as a result of police entrapment,” he wrote. “In the mid-1960s — the very time when a wave of freedom, openness, and demand for change was cresting — New York City increased its enforcement of anti-homosexual laws to such an extent that it amounted to an attempt to impose police-state conditions onto a homosexual ghetto.”

Tensions boiled over at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, when the police staged one of their periodic raids and the patrons and people on the street resisted. Days of disturbances and demonstrations followed, and the event came to be recognized as a crucial moment in an evolving movement. As it did, various spins on what had happened and who was responsible emerged.

Interviewing numerous participants and reconstructing a timeline of those six tumultuous days, Mr. Carter debunked some myths: He did not, for instance, find any evidence that the funeral of Judy Garland earlier that week had somehow touched off the disturbances, as had sometimes been claimed. And he sorted through differing versions of who within the L.G.B.T.Q. world had touched off the uprising and furthered it. He gave particular credit to, among others, an unidentified lesbian in male dress who first resisted the police and several transgender people, as well as gay youths living on the street in the neighborhood.

“All available evidence,” he wrote, “leads us to conclude that the Stonewall Riots were instigated and led by the most despised and marginal elements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.”

In a 2019 article in Gay City News, Mr. Carter reflected on the divisiveness that had developed around the event as different groups and individuals claimed credit for being linchpins. And he argued for perspective.

“I think it is worth noting that during the Uprising participants were not thinking in the neat categories we employ today,” he wrote.

“My research convinces me that at the time of Stonewall, there was simply a feeling of our community standing up as one together to protect itself,” he added. “Perhaps someday that feeling of oneness will return.”

Charles David Carter was born on Dec. 2, 1952, in Jesup, Ga. His father, William, was a merchant, and his mother, Sarah Causey Carter, was a homemaker.

After graduating from Wayne County High School in Jesup, he earned a bachelor’s degree in religion at Emory University in Atlanta in 1974. In 1978 he earned a master’s degree in South Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he became active in gay rights issues.

Mr. Carter, who moved to New York in 1985, said that one of the first positive statements he encountered about being gay was in an article about the poet Allen Ginsberg that said he was both gay and an American treasure. He later met Ginsberg and struck up an acquaintance that resulted, in 2001, in “Allen Ginsberg: Selected Interviews, 1958-1996,” which Mr. Carter edited after Ginsberg’s death in 1997.

“Many encounters that probably petered out toward their close are concluded here on a memorable cadence or turn of wit,” he wrote.

Mr. Carter first became interested in writing about Stonewall in 1994, amid publicity about the 25th anniversary of the event.

“It is to the gay movement what the fall of the Bastille is to the unleashing of the French Revolution,” he said.

Even before the book came out, the research he was doing became an important part of a quest by Mr. Carter and others to have the two buildings on Christopher Street where the Stonewall Inn was situated, and the surrounding streets, added to the National Register of Historic Places. That status was granted in 1999. The site was designated a National Monument in 2016.

Mr. Carter became a go-to voice on Stonewall and the rights movement it helped advance. In 2002, for instance, opposing changes to a PATH station in the area, he told The Times, “When you have a very important battlefield — Gettysburg, Vicksburg or Custer’s last stand — you don’t want to alter any part of it.”

In addition to his brother, Mr. Carter is survived by his longtime friend, Eric Danzer.

Mr. Carter’s Stonewall book was released to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the uprising. The Capital Times of Madison, Wis., interviewed him the day after he had attended the 2004 Pride March in Manhattan, an event born in response to Stonewall. Among the participants in that year’s march was the New York Police Department band.

“They played ‘The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,’” Mr. Carter told the newspaper. “Thirty-five years ago, I guarantee no one imagined that ever happening.”

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