Condensed Milk: a (Somewhat) Short List of Harvey Milk Resources

GLC 35 Harvey Milk Archives--Scott Smith Collection

On May 22, 1930, Harvey Milk was born in Woodmere, New York. Now, 82 years later, librarians at the San Francisco History Center can guarantee that at least once a week we'll answer the question: "Can you help me find sources for my paper on Harvey Milk?"

Milk is known around the world as the first openly gay man elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The tragedy of his death and that of Mayor George Moscone at the hands of former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978 stunned the City's residents and politicized Milk's followers.

You may not know that Harvey served in the Navy, and later lived in New York City for several years, where he became involved with the Broadway scene. In the 1970s, he moved to San Francisco and opened Castro Camera. Along the way, he became increasingly active in politics and outspoken in the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians. He ran for public office several times before he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk's death made him a martyr, and his legacy endures.

GLC 35 Harvey Milk Archives--
Scott Smith Collection
Since it's his birthday, it seems appropriate to present a short list of  library resources for doing research on Milk. There are books, films, plays, and music about Milk. Many of these are available in libraries around the country. In addition to the published resources, there are archival materials that document his life and death. The archives, however, are available only at the San Francisco History Center.

The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts is probably the best known book. The biography paints a picture of Milk's early life and deftly describes the political landscape of San Francisco in the 1970s. It also includes several of Milk's speeches in the appendix: "The Hope Speech," "A Populist Looks at the City," "A City of Neighborhoods," and "That's What America Is." It also includes a transcript of Milk's political will.

Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk was published to accompany the motion picture of the same name. It is well illustrated and includes some original photographs set alongside the recreated scenes from the film. It also includes some speeches and interviews with Milk's friends thirty years after his death and has chapters on different aspects of San Francisco at the time.

In 2010, Mike Weiss and Vince Emery published a revised and enlarged edition of Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. This book places the City Hall murders within the context of city politics and the personal lives of Milk, Moscone and White. It includes police reports and Dan White's confession, along with other material gathered through interviews with friends of Milk, Moscone and White.

GLC 35 Harvey Milk Archives--Scott Smith Collection
Just published in 2012 is The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words, edited by Vince Emery. This book contains 39 chronologically arranged interviews spanning Milk's political career, from his first days as a candidate to shortly before his assassination. Some additional books include: Leslea Newman's Letter to Harvey Milk; Warren Hinckle's Gayslayer; Charles Morris III's Queering Public Address, which has a chapter on Milk; and Jason Edward Black and Charles Morris III's article in Voice of Democracy about the Hope Speech.

The books No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk by David Aretha and The Harvey Milk Story by Kari Krakow are written for teens and for children, respectively.

Theater and Music
Emily Mann's Execution of Justice and Patricia Loughrey's Dear Harvey: A Drama are two plays that pay homage to the events of 1978. Loughrey's uses Milk's own words. Musical compositions include Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie's Harvey Milk: An Opera in Three Acts, recorded by the San Francisco Opera. And June will see the premiere of Harvey Milk: A Cantata by Jack Curtis Dubowsky, performed by the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco and the Lick Wilmerding Chorus.

GLC 35 Harvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection
Films and Photographs
The Academy Award winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk by Robert Epstein and Richard Schmeichen is an excellent resource. Gus Van Sant's Oscar winning feature film Milk is a moving depiction of the events of 1977-1978. The film was made on location, and set dressers used photographs from the Harvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection to recreate important scenes. Daniel Nicoletta, who was one of the consultants on the film, got his start working in Harvey's Castro Camera shop. Nicoletta is a fine photographer, and the library is fortunate to have the Daniel Nicoletta Photographs Collection, which includes some images of Milk and his time.

The Hormel Center has a few collections with primary source material on Milk. Foremost is the Harvey Milk Archives--Scott Smith Collection, which was generously donated by Elva Smith, Scott's mother. The Milk-Smith Collection contains materials on Milk's political campaigns, his Supervisor activities, his writings and speeches, and his photographs. His constituent correspondence and supervisor files detail the interests of the time. His speeches and writings still resonate 30 years later, as evidenced by the books listed above. While in office, he co-sponsored a gay rights ordinance and was interested in the creation of a gay community center. His Supervisor issue files cover a wide variety of topics, from the Briggs Initiative (Proposition 6) and divestment from South Africa to San Francisco parking facilities and the much-publicized Dog Litter law.

Two smaller collections of material include Milk's correspondence with his friend Susan Davis Alch and with his ex-boyfriend Joe Campbell. These letters show us a more intimate look at Harvey. You may be interested to know that Randy Shilts was not aware of these letters when he wrote The Mayor of Castro Street. The Randy Shilts Papers contains the background research for the Milk biography. Most notable are Randy's interviews with those who knew Milk; these are first-hand recollections of what was a very important time for the City. Finally, the Mike Weiss Double Play Collection (SFH 34) includes the research gathered for the book Double Play.

All of the archival collections are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.


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