From the Mellon Foundation:
Growing up in the small Alabama town of Dolomite in the 1970s, Tony Christon-Walker recalls, “I didn’t have the words for what I was. I didn’t have gay role models to show me that I was going to be okay, that there was nothing wrong with me.” Which is why Christon-Walker, now the director of prevention and community partnerships at AIDS Alabama and an organizer of the first Birmingham Black Pride (Bham Pride) in 2018, was responsive last year when he received a message from Josh Burford, an archivist and LGBTQ+ educator.
Burford explained that he and Maigen Sullivan, the gender and sexuality diversity coordinator at University of Alabama and an LGBTQ+ educator, had just launched the Birmingham-based Invisible Histories Project (iHP), a non-profit with a mission to collect and preserve the material history of the Queer South. Would he be willing to donate materials documenting the launch of Bham Pride to iHP’s community archive?
The goal is to launch iHP networks in every Southern state, ultimately inscribing a kind of “rainbow history trail” across the region. “A lot of the work we do is convincing people that their collections have value, that their stories matter,” says Burford. There is a sense of urgency to collect those stories before they disappear, so iHP has prioritized outreach to LGBTQ+ people over 70. “Our queer elders are in critical health, so we feel a sense of urgency to spend time with them and listen to their stories and their struggles and joys,” Burford explained. “So much has already been lost.”
The ever-growing archive now comprises hundreds of pieces from some twenty collections: diaries, correspondence, internal memos, photographs, banners, quilts, and such contemporary memorabilia as pins, t-shirts, and stickers. The oldest item is a chapbook of poems handwritten in 1912 found in a thrift shop. Files and boxes have come from ordinary LGBTQ+ citizens; advocates like Tony Christon-Walker; and prominent figures such as Patricia Todd, an openly gay member of the Alabama House of Representatives, and Glenda R. Elliott, a longtime activist and professor emerita at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
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