The Daily Agenda for Friday, February 22
February 22nd, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Modesto Youth Gets Probation On “Morals Charge”: 1950. Vernon Edward Jensen, a clerk at a florist shop, pleaded guilting to what The Modesto (CA) Bee described simply as a “sex peversion charge.” The circumstances behind the arrest aren’t descrbed, except that
Jensen was one of nine recently arrested on perversion charges in a police roundup. Two of the nine were county teachers, Rolla H. Nuckles, 37, of 110 Roselawn Avenue, Modesto High School public speaking instructor, and Charles Lloyd Martin, 23, at 310 South Broadway, Turlock, who taught English and history at the Wakefield School there.
The charge against Nuckles were dismissed two days earlier, after having been held in jail since January 27 at the recommendation of the Deputy District Attorney. But that didn’t shield him from having his name and address printed once again in the paper. There is no mention of what happened to Martin. As for Jensen, a psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Gladen, head of the Modesto State Hospital, said that he wasn’t a “psychiatric abnormal person”:
As quoted by the court, Dr. Gladen pictured Jensen as not a homosexual but as “foolish kid,” now highly penitent and disgusted with his past action, and deserving of another chance.
The court agreed, and sentenced him to three years probation, during which time “he must obey all laws, report to the probation officer at regular intervals, remain in the county and refrain from excessive use if liquor.”
I see these names in the papers and often wonder what happened to them. Whenever people were arrested on a “morals charge” or for “lewd vagrancy,” their names, addresses and places of employment were typically printed in the paper, and that publicity often made whatever official punishment they may have received mild in comparison to losing their job or being shunned by their families and neighbors. It must have been an extraordinarily humiliating experience for each of these three men. But sixty years later, those very details are sometimes the only thing which can truly remind us that these were real people suffering from this kind of official oppression and not just characters in long-forgotten newspaper clippings.
Like I said, I often wonder what happened to some of these people that I run across, so I went sleuthing on Ancestry.com. There, I found a Vernon Edward Jenson, born February 11, 1929 in Butte, California, who died in 1995 in Alameda. Unfortunately, that’s all I was able to find for him. I wasn’t able to come up with much of anything for Martin.
But I may have found some interesting information on Nuckles, the teacher against whom the charges were dismissed. Rolla Hargiss Nuckles was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and attended the University of Kansas where, in 1932 and 1933, he was a member of the Dramatic Club, and in 1933 was president of the local chapter of the National Collegiate Players, “one of the many units in all nation-wide dramatic movements.”) That same year, he appeared on the Dramatic Club’s performance of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” where, according to the college yearbook, “Elizabeth Crafton stole the show and Rolla Nuckles wore lace.” Nuckles appears to have been quite the performer. As a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, he was described as “perhaps the most delectable tap dancer to nauseate the Hill in some years.” In 1938, he’s still there, teaching “radio speaking” for students at the University of Kansas’ radio station KFKU and directing radio dramas as well as theatrical plays. This seems to match pretty well with being a public speaking instructor in Modesto. A 1944 Corpus Christi city directory lists a Rolla H. Nuckles as a radio announcer for radio station KEYS. From there, the record runs dry, with the exception of the arrest in Modesto, until his death in 2000 in San Antonio.
Frank Kameny Becomes First Openly Gay Candidate for Congress: 1971. The U.S. Constitution grants each state voting representation in both houses of Congress, but because the District of Columbia isn’t one, its more than half-a-million residents are taxed without voting representation (even though its population is larger than Wyoming). But in 1971, Congress agreed to allow D.C. to be represented in the House of Representatives by a single by a non-voting delegate. On February 22, pioneering gay rights advocate Franklin E. Kameny (see May 21) filed his nominating papers and proclaimed himself “the first publicly declared homosexual ever to run for Congress.” In announcing his run, Kameny declared, “We intend to remind a government and a country, which seems in may ways to have forgotten it, exactly what Americanism means — that this is a country of personal freedom and individual diversity; that Queen Victoria is dead, and the Puritans are long gone.”
Kameny joined a crowded field of eight (soon narrowed to six after two candidates’ petitions were thrown out), led by front-runner Democrat Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, who had been an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Contrary to expectations, Kameny didn’t run a single-issue campaign. He spoke at forums and television appearances about welfare reform, crime, the Vietnam war, freeway construction, home rule for the District, and other issues in terms similar to other candidates. But, as he told one audience, his campaign added “a special concern for what America stands for in terms of human rights for minorities like homosexuals.” One audience member exclaimed, “Are you serious?” Kameny answered, characteristically, “Yes, I certainly am.”
The overarching theme of the campaign was personal freedom. “I offer you beyond what the other candidates offer,” he told one forum at Howard University, “a special sensitivity to personal freedom, the right to live your life as you choose to live it.”
At one point in the campaign, Kameny told reporters, “My candidacy is a special one and will be conducted in some special ways.” One of those special ways was a campaign event he held at 1:00 a.m. on an early Friday Morning at Pier Nine, one of the city’s largest gay bars at Half and T Streets SW. The goal was to make sure the gay vote became a visible one. “Even if we don’t win,” he said, “if we can get 5,000 to 10,000 votes, things will not be the same again. That many votes would not be overlooked. …We are part of society; we are citizens of Washington, and we love this city. We want to play an active role in the life of Washington.”
On March 23, Fauntroy, as expected, won and became the District’s first non-voting delegate to Congress. (He would also, years later, become an outspoken foe of marriage equality in the District and a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment.) Kameny came in fourth with 1,841 votes. The vote count may have been small (only 1.6% of the total), but it did wind up changing the local political dynamic. In the following year, several candidates for the newly elected city school board went out of their way to court gay and lesbian voters.
[Sources: David R. Boldt. "Homosexual files delegate papers." The Washington Post (February 23, 1971): A17
William L. Claiborne. "Candidate seeks end to homosexual ban." The Washington Post (March 10, 1971): C1, C3.
Bart Barneas. "Kameny stresses personal freedom." The Washington Post (March 13, 1971): B1, B2.
"Kameny for Congress." The Rainbow History Project (Undated): Online.]
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?