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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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Topics In the News
 
Remembering the Assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/26/13
Last updated on: 11/26/13
 
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Thirty-five years ago, on November 27, 1978, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, among the first openly gay men to be elected to public office in the United States, was assassinated, along with progressive Mayor George Moscone, in San Franciso's City Hall. His tragic death made him the American gay liberation movement's most visible martyr.

Milk's tenure in office was tragically short-lived. On November 27, 1978, after serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for only 11 months, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a disgruntled former Supervisor who had resigned in opposition to the recent passage of Milk's most significant piece of legislation, the city's landmark gay rights ordinance.

As Susan Stryker recalls in her glbtq.com entry on Milk, "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."

White, who had been a police officer before entering politics, was convicted not of premeditated murder, as had been widely expected, but of the lesser crime of manslaughter, the result of what is now referred to as the "twinkie defense." White's attorney argued that the defendant could not be held accountable for his actions due to the amount of junk food he had eaten on the day of the crimes.

When White was sentenced on May 21, 1979 to less than eight years in prison, enraged citizens, sensing a conspiracy, swarmed City Hall in what came to be known as the White Night Riots. San Francisco suffered more than $1 million in damages to city property, including rows of police cars set on fire by angry protesters. Later that night, the police staged a retaliatory raid on the Castro, where they vandalized gay businesses and beat passers-by on the street. (White was paroled after serving six years in prison and committed suicide shortly thereafter.)

Harvey Milk Day is celebrated in California in May. However, in San Francisco, an annual vigil is held in honor of Milk and Moscone on November 27.

The video below documents the city's 2008 vigil in honor of the slain Supervisor and Mayor.

 
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