Writ in Signs: 1960s LGBTQ Civil Rights Struggles

ONE Archives

Thanks to a generous grant from the Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR), the USC Libraries are nearing completion of a project to digitize 4,200 signs, posters, and other political graphics from the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. The posters and signs—often created by anonymous artists—trace the origins of public demonstrations, protests, and pride celebrations from more than 50 years of LGBTQ civil rights activism in the United States. 

Historic picket signs and placards from the project were recently published in the USC Digital Library. They include handmade signs from public demonstrations organized by Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny, and other pioneering activists during the 1960s at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. 

The protests, known as the Annual Reminders, were organized on July 4thof each year from 1965 to 1969. As reflected in the original picket signs and photographs in ONE’s collections, these early protests focused on basic issues of equality, inclusion, and equal protections under the law. For example, many LGBTQ government workers like Frank Kameny lost their jobs under an Eisenhower-era policy barring gays and lesbians from federal employment. 

The last Annual Reminder took place in 1969—just days after the June 28 protests following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. In 1970, the organizers of the Annual Reminders joined with other activists to commemorate the Stonewall protests with a march through New York. In Los Angeles, Christopher Street West organized a gay rights parade for the same day, June 28. These early events evolved into annual pride parades and celebrations in New York, Los Angeles, and numerous other cities and the establishment of June as LGBTQ Pride Month. 

The CLIR-supported digital library project at ONE Archives includes a wealth of other political graphics such as posters from the Christopher Street West parades, picket signs from other 1960s and 1970s protests against police entrapment and violence, and inventive, visually stunning handmade signs created by ACT UP to protest the U.S. public health response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. 

Over the next few months, ONE librarian Loni Shibuyama will be sharing more highlights of the political graphics digitized through the project.