It’s a little known fact that New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a part of the New York Public Library system, under the direction of Steven G. Fullwood, houses the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive (BGLA), the largest collection of Black gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender, same-gender loving, queer, questioning and in the life cultural archives and has done so since 2000.

Fullwood, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Broadcasting degree from the University of Toledo, and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Clark Atlanta University, currently lives in Harlem and is attempting to chronicle the history of a people dating back to the 1920’s with the explosion of the Harlem Renaissance. 

Since 2000, Fullwood has been able to gather 30 linear feet of materials including issues of MOJA, a newspaper that published in 1978 and 1979, and works from Barbara Smith, a founder of the Kitchen Table Press, Assotto Saint, the late poet, and the late filmmaker Marlon Riggs, best known for his 1989 documentary “Tongues Untied.”

Among the first to make a donation was writer Jewelle Gomez, who sent copies of all of her books, essays, articles and photographs. Alan Bell, editor of KujiSource and pioneering community writer and activist, donated an entire run of BLK, along with copies of Blackfire, Black Lace, and Kuumba. Cornelius Moore, director of African Cinema at California Newsreel, contributed copies of MOJA, the first black gay and lesbian-oriented newspaper and Marlon Riggs’ last film “Black Is…Black Ain’t.”

Writers Donna Allegra and Thomas Glave provided copies of their writings and other items. Lisa C. Moore, founder of Red Bone Press, sent copies of Does Your Mama Know: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, and The Bull Jean Stories, by Sharon Bridgforth, in book and CD format.  Charlene Cothran, editor-in-chief and publisher of Venus Magazine and Gregory Victorianne, creator of Buti Voxx, contributed books, broadsides, flyers, journals, magazines and programs. Author and editor Stanley Bennett Clay gave copies of SBC Magazine and a rare copy of a chapbook by west coast based poet Sage. Firebrand Books donated several publications by Cheryl Clarke, Pat Parker, Kate Rushin and Shay Youngblood. Other donors include activist Anthony Hardaway, filmmaker Rodney Evans, hip-hop artist Tori Fixx, and playwright Sterling Houston.

To date, the BGLA boasts artifacts and material dating back over thirty years.

A prized possession of the archive includes a facsimile copy of FIRE!!, a 1926 journal published by Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, that includes Smoke, Lilies and Jade a short story by Richard Bruce Nugent that may be the first short story published about same-sex desire between two black men and was recently featured in the acclaimed film “Brother to Brother.”

Chronicling a history of a people dating back to the 1920’s with the explosion of the Harlem Renaissance where Richard Bruce Nugent, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Alain Locke first made their names known though their legacy of art and literature, the BGLA also features works from the 1980’s where America first witnessed a deluge of AIDS service organizations dedicated to serving African American gay men who were often overlooked by existing AIDS organizations.

What was Steven’s motivation to undertake this huge responsibility of cataloguing the lives of gay people of African descent?

Steven explains, “The BGLA was developed for the expressed purpose of documenting contributions to the arts and culture by Black same-gender loving people. The archive project is divided into two phases. The first phase of the BGLA project is to gather materials for a period of five years (2000-2005) in order to create a collection of materials, which would span a gamut of documented black same-gender loving history. The second phase of this venture is to place the materials in one or more reputable repositories for the expressed purpose of preservation and access to the public for research. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has agreed to house the original collection, and I am in talks with other repositories to develop similar archival initiatives.”

Like with any culture, the documenting of ones history is of critical importance. The Blacklist[1], an extensive listing of well known and not so well known Black gays and lesbians compiled by Chuck Tarver, was first developed out of a need to find Black gays and lesbians to recognize during Black History Month in 1994.

In an era in time, where gay people of African descent are still scrambling to find any resemblance of themselves in mainstream pop and Black culture, the Blacklist and BGLA are especially important for future generations of Black gays who will need to learn about the trailblazers of this period who not only excelled and broke new ground as African Americans, but as African American gays and lesbians in the areas of film, art, music, literature, politics, civil rights and so much more. 

While current generations study the contributions of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, filmmaker Marlon Riggs, authors Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Zora Neal Hurston to name a few, we can expect future generations to study pioneers such as AIDS activist Phill Wilson, Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden, Redbone Press founder Lisa C. Moore, activist and author Keith Boykin, activist Wanda Alston, filmmaker’s Patrik Ian Polk, Rodney Evans, Maurice Jamal and Debra Wilson, musician Meshell Ndegeocello and the list goes on.  For them,it will be as simple as logging online or visiting New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Black Gay and Lesbian Archives.

The BLGA collects the following materials: Books, magazines, newsletters, journals, pamphlets, flyers, hand cards, prints, photographs, moving images, recorded sound materials (film/video, music, and conference proceedings) and organizational records (agendas, minutes, reports, etc.).  Materials can be sent to: Steven G. Fullwood

C/o The Black Gay and Lesbian Archives, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801.  Steven G. Fullwood, can be reached at (212) 491-2226 and online at steven@stevengfullwood.org or www.stevengfullwood.org.  Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture can be reached online at www.schomburgcenter.org.

“The Black homosexual is hard pressed to gain audience among his heterosexual brothers; even if he is more talented, he is inhibited by his silence or his admissions. This is what the race has depended on in being able to erase homosexuality from our recorded history.  The "chosen" history. But these sacred constructions of silence are futile exercises in denial. We will not go away with our issues of sexuality.  We are coming home.”  –Essex Hemphill


[1] The Blacklist is located online at http://www.blackstripe.com/archives/blacklist/