Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Patricia Sullivan


This project examines the changing status and role of queer African Americans during the twentieth century in the context of increasing black politicization. Moreover, it traces the relationship between queer African Americans and their communities until the emergence of queer black identity politics in the 1970s. Specifically, this dissertation seeks to more fully illuminate both the experiences of queer African Americans and how their communities and leaders discussed and dealt with homosexuality in the broader context of black political mobilization from the Jim Crow era and the Harlem Renaissance, through the Black Power and early Gay Liberation movements, roughly the 1920s through the late 1970s. In their ongoing struggle for citizenship rights and social equality, African Americans faced political pressures that affected the ways in which they sought to present themselves to dominant white society, and these pressures influenced the ways that they dealt with the presence of homosexuality in black communities and political organizations. Ultimately, the need for racial solidarity both kept queer African Americans engaged in black communities and prevented any meaningful development of independent queer black identity politics until the 1970s.

This project also seeks to challenge contemporary popular notions about hyperhomophobia among African Americans. So many present-day discussions of "black homophobia" simplify a very complex issue to an alarming degree. Dialogue within the white gay community that condemns African Americans for not unquestioningly supporting gay rights because of their own struggles for racial equality is problematic at best and racist at worst. Moreover, condemnations of the monolithic "black church" for its conservatism on gay rights issues seem to ignore the incidence of similar, if not more pervasive, attitudes within white churches, not to mention ignoring the variety of black religious institutions and belief systems. Finally, this project hopes to place queer African Americans at the center of their own stories rather than at the periphery of narratives of white gays and lesbians or heterosexual African Americans.

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