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Topics In the News
Remembering Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/27/12
Last updated on: 11/28/12
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Harvey Milk with his sister-in-law in front of Castro Camera in 1973 (GFDL v. 1.2).

The 34th annual candlelight vigil honoring slain San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk was held on November 27, 2012. The annual event has grown out of a spontaneous demonstration that occurred on November 27, 1978, the day disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White assassinated the two men.

Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor Scott Wiener, former Mayor Willie Brown, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano joined friends and family of Milk and Moscone for the observance.

The event began at 4:30 p.m. on the steps of City Hall, and included remarks from Milk's nephew, Stuart, who founded the Harvey Milk Foundation with Anne Kronenberg, who managed Milk's 1977 campaign for Supervisor and served as his aide. It also featured a performance by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, which made its first public appearance at the original vigil.

Ammiano, a teacher who volunteered on Milk's campaign before following his footsteps to the Board of Supervisors and beyond as a champion of glbtq rights, said that his was a message of victory. "We've said, 'All right, you might take away the messengers, but you're not going to take away the message.'"

Mayor Lee, the city's first Asian-American mayor, and former Mayor Brown, its first African-American chief executive and a close friend of Moscone's, also emphasized the theme of victory.

"Tonight, San Francisco, is not a time to be sad; it is a time to celebrate," Brown told the crowd. "You are the beneficiaries of an incredible, productive team that has caused San Francisco to be what it is."

Milk's tenure in office was tragically short-lived. After serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for only 11 months, he and Moscone were assassinated by White, who had resigned in opposition to the recent passage of Milk's only significant piece of legislation, the landmark gay rights ordinance.

White crawled in through a basement window at City Hall to avoid the metal detectors; he walked into the Mayor's office and shot Moscone at point-blank range; then he reloaded his gun and walked down the corridor to kill Milk.

Milk's fate at the hands of an assassin was not entirely unexpected, given the violence and homophobia that have characterized American politics. Milk himself was haunted by the possibility of assassination. He tape recorded several versions of his political will, which he labeled "to be read in the event of my assassination." One of the tapes included the following statement: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

The clip below, from the 1984 Academy Award-winning documentary by Rob Epstein and Richard Schmeichen, The Times of Harvey Milk, features Milk's most famous speech, "Hope."

The video below, also from The Times of Harvey Milk, features archival coverage of the assassinations and the first candlelight vigil.

In August 2009, President Obama awarded Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was accepted by Stuart Milk.

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