The Daily Agenda for Friday, February 1
February 1st, 2013
Events This Weekend: Winter Pride, Killington, VT; Midsumma, Melbourne, VIC; Rainbow Reykjavik Winter Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland; Regenbogenball (Rainbow Ball), Vienna, Austria; Gay Whistler, Whistler, BC.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Los Angeles Police “Purity Squad” Raids Private Party: 1920. Angelinos awoke to an odd story in that day’s Los Angeles Times:
Twenty Los Angeles men, some said the be prominent in social and business circles, were arrested last night by the police at a stag party in the home of Former Mayor Harper and were booked on the charge of social vagrancy.
Seven of the men, including the host, Joseph Harper, 24 years old, are alleged by the officers making the raid to have been gowned in feminine apparel.
The house, at 1128 West Twenty-eights street, was surrounded when the gaiety was at its height.
Just after the police had raided the residence, Ex-Mayor Harper and Mrs. Harper arrived home. They had returned, unexpectedly, from a trip to Bakersfield. Mrs. Harper was prostrated by the incident and became hysterical. Mr. Harper also was overcome with emotion.
…According to Police Sergeant Gifford and the officers of the “purity squad” who conducted the raid, a degenerate orgy was in progress when they entered the house.
Two naval petty officers and two unlisted sailors, whose names were withheld by the police were at the “party” in uniform, it is said.
The four naval personnel were the only ones accorded the courtesy of their names not being released to the press. For everyone else, The Times dutifully noted in the next two paragraphs party-goers’ names, addresses and occupations, with the first paragraph listing the six who were “all taking ‘female’ parts in the party,” and the second listing those who “remained in male attire.” The following day, The Times carried a much more lengthy account:
Two of the score of prisoners were released on bail yesterday, eight of them were ordered held without bail after they failed to pass the medical quarantine examination, and the other ten are being held in various tanks and cells, some still awaiting masculine clothes to take the place of the feminine finery which Purity Squad officers unceremoniously removed from them in the jail.
The ever-diligent Times then went on to list the names, addresses and occupations of everyone who “failed to pass the medical examination for infectious disease,” those who were released on bail, and those who remained in jail. Former Mayer Harper, whose son was released on a $500 bond, told reporters: “I believe absolutely in my son’s innocence. I wouldn’t say that the police are misrepresenting the facts, but I reserve for myself a few opinions along that line.” The Times, having gotten that quick statement out of the way, then went on to describe some of the more titillating details:
Central Police Station buzzed with activity all through the night and the day yesterday. Early in the morning, after Jailer Shand arrived, he and his assistants went upstairs to the big tank and began stripping eight of the “guests” of the female attire in which they had draped themselves.
The dresses, some of them very costly and elaborate, were unceremoniously packed into suit cases and marked as evidence. Some of the men were supplied with bathrobes and others had to content themselves with jail blankets.
The arresting officers yesterday related the details of the raid and the evidence they assert they have to substantiate their charges. News that the party was to take place Saturday night was received about two weeks ago, they stated. At that time, the officers say, there was another party at which some of the men arrested Saturday were present.
Arrangements were made to have some of the officers in the house. While the scheme of the operation was not disclosed, it was whispered yesterday that at least one of the purity squad’s experts was under a bed in one of the rooms, another one was among the original members of the party wearing a uniform, and a third member managed to get into the house at the last hour. The officers say liquor was served int he shape of punch, and that there was music and much hilarity.
In an odd turn two months later, the charges in the Harper raid were dropped due to “confusion” and the fact that an “important witness is said to have disappeared.”
Langston Hughes: 1902. He was one of the innovators of a new form of poetry: jazz poetry. Born in Joplin, Missouri, he moved to New York City to attend Columbia, but was more interested in the goings-on in Harlem. He traveled throughout the world, and while his writings reflect those travels, he remained rooted in the experience of the Harlem Renaissance. His 1934 collection of short stories, The Ways of White Folks, tells of the intersection of black and white, and his screen play for Way Down South came out in the same year as Gone With the Wind. He remained closeted for his entire life, although some say that if you ignore the pronouns you can see hints of homoeroticism in some of his poems. Other unpublished poems appear to have been written to a black male lover. Another short story, Blessed Assurance,” deals with a father’s anger over his son’s “queerness.” But his finances were always precarious, and he would not have been able to afford the fallout of openness about his sexuality. He died in 1967 after abdominal surgery, and his ashes are interred at the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.