From Our Archives: The 1969 Advocate Article on the Stonewall Riots

The Advocate's September 1969 article colorfully chronicles the tumultuous Stonewall riots, known as the major spark that ignited the modern gay rights movement.

BY Michelle Garcia

June 29 2012 11:05 AM ET

June 28 and 29 are the anniversary of the history-making Stonewall riots in New York City's Greenwich Village. The riots at the Stonewall  Inn on Christopher Street are known as the spark of the modern gay rights movement. While researching our archives for the 45th Anniversary issue, we came across this report, provided to The Advocate in the summer of 1969 by the New York Mattachine Society. The following article ran in the September 1969 issue of The Advocate.


Police Raid on N.Y. Club Sets off First Gay Riot
by Dick Leitsch, Reprinted from New York Mattachine Newsletter.

The first gay riots in history took place during the pre-dawn hours of Saturday and Sunday, June 28-29 in New York's Greenwich Village. The demonstrations were touched off by a police raid on the popular Stonewall Club, 53 Christopher Street. This was the last (to date) in a series of harassments which plagued the Village area for the last several weeks.

Plainclothes officers entered the club at about 2 a.m., armed with a warrant, and closed the place on grounds of illegal selling of alcohol. Employees were arrested and the customers told to leave. The patrons gathered on the street outside and were joined by other Village residents and visitors to the area.

The police behaved, as is usually the case when they deal with homosexuals, with bad grace, and were reproached by "straight" onlookers. Pennies were thrown at the cops by the crowd, then beer cans, rocks, and even parking meters. The cops retreated inside the bar, which was set afire by the crowd.

A hose from the bar was employed by the trapped cops to douse the flames, and reinforcements were summoned. A melee ensued, with nearly a thousand persons participating, as well as several hundred cops. Nearly two hours later the cops had "secured" the area.

EVEN WAITERS' TIPS
The next day, the Stonewall management sent in a crew to repair the premises, and found that the cops had taken all the money from the cigarette machine, the jukebox, the cash register, and the safe, and had even robbed the waiters' tips!

Since they had been charged with selling liquor without a license, the club was reopened as a "free store," open to all and with everything being given away, rather than sold.

A crowd filled the place and the street in front. Singing and chanting filled Sheridan Square Park, and the crowds grew quickly.

At first, the crowd was all gay, but as the weekend tourists poured into the area, they joined the crowds. They'd begin by asking what was happening. When they were told that homosexuals were protesting the closing of a gay club, they'd become very sympathetic, and stayed to watch or to join in.

One middle-aged lady with her husband told a cop that he should be ashamed of himself. "Don't you know that these people have no place to go and need a place like that bar?" she shouted. (Several hours later, she and her husband with two other couples, were seen running with a large group of homosexuals from the night sticks brandished by the Tactical Police Force.)

The crowds were orderly, and limited themselves to singing and shouting slogans such as "Gay Power," "We Want Freedom Now," and "Equality for Homosexuals." As the mob grew, it spilled off the sidewalk, oveflowed Sheridan Square Park, and began to fill the roadway. One of the six cops who were there to keep order began to get smart and cause hostility.

A bus driver blew his horn at the meeting, and someone shouted, "Stop the Bus!" The crowd surged onto the street and blocked the progress of the bus.  As the driver inched ahead, someone ripped off an advertising card and blocked the windshield with it. The crowd beat on the sides of the (empty) bus and shouted, "Christopher Street belongs to the queens!" and "Liberate the street."
 

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