REVIEW: “An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings”
An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings
Ed. by Jason Edward Black and Charles E. Morris III
Harvey Milk is arguably the most recognizable figure in the history of the modern gay rights movement. His smiling face represents the hope of many of us for a brighter, more open future for LBGT people. In the introduction to An Archive of Hope, Frank Robinson poignantly says, “We desperately wanted to find a gay hero. I never realized I had found mine until the day that Harvey died.”
In this collection of Harvey Milk’s writings, put together by Black and Morris, you certainly get the message of Hope with a capital H. At the end of the day, it’s Hope that keeps you going, that buoys you to face daily challenges; it’s Hope that saves lives. What really becomes clear in Milk’s letters and speeches is that he was also a very hands-on, practical guy who built bridges of community around many issues, not only on LGBT rights.
The star of this book is the famous and inspiring speech “You’ve Got to Have Hope,” a bold statement of Milk’s political vision that’s practically a call for Queer Nationalism. Darker, but equally dramatic, is a transcription of the tape recording of Milk’s “Political Will”, which “is to be played only in the event of my death by assassination.” These may be the two book-ends to Milk’s speeches, yet there is a lot more to his writing than being a figurehead for a movement.
For example, Milk was also a big supporter of unions. In an article for the Bay Area Reporter, Milk outlines his support of the boycott on Coors Beer, a boycott started by the fairly conservative AFL-CIO; according to the book’s intro, Milk asked that the union give LGBT people jobs instead of asking for their support for his election campaign. Contained here is also part of an address given to the Longshoreman’s Union in 1973, advocating that The City should hire police and other workers who actually live in The City. Milk would have needed some chutzpah to stand as an openly gay man in front of such a group; and the fact that he won them over is a testament to his ability to erase divisions between people with a common cause. He also addressed issues ranging from seniors, housing and rent control, Latino and African American civil rights, and Apartheid, all the way to mundane things like dog poop in the parks.
When Harvey Milk was murdered at City Hall in 1978, I was a nine-year-old living in the suburbs of the East Bay. Many of my LGBT friends, the ones who came a generation ahead of mine, knew Harvey. I’ve always wished I could claim that myself. What really comes through in this collection of articles, flyers, writings and speeches, is the person the way he was. In my imagination, I can hear his voice as I read his words. He’s idealistic, sure; but also brash and irreverent, sometimes angry and outraged, and occasionally tongue-in-cheek: “I’m Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you.” While I’m glad An Archive of Hope pulls together Milk’s literary legacy, hugely important for the benefit of historians, students and future activists, what is most important for me is the portrait of the person that comes through the work, because now I can feel just a little bit like I knew him too.
Available online and at Books, Inc (2275 Market Street).
Meet and Greet:
On May 22nd, Harvey Milk’s birthday, the editors of An Archive of Hope will appear at Books Inc., 2275 Market St., at 7:30 pm. Jason Edward Black and Charles E. Morris III will be joined by novelist and screenwriter Frank Robinson, Harvey’s friend and sometimes speechwriter. Robinson authored the introduction to the book. Also appearing will be Daniel Nicoletta, the noted photographer, activist, and former employee at Harvey Milk’s business Castro Camera and whose photograph graces the book’s handsome front cover. This event is co-sponsored by the SF GLBT History Museum, and supported by the Harvey Milk Democratic Club.