In the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969, the patrons of the bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village had enough. Years of raids and beatings by police had reached their crescendo, and the Stonewall clientele decided that on this night, they would not follow the usual script. From drag queens to dykes, the Stonewall patrons rebelled. The police crashed the party, and the partiers crashed right back. When the cops swung their clubs, the gays struck back; they slung coins, then bottles, then bricks at the cops. Drinks and furniture flew; a dozen of scuffles simultaneously broke out.
As the melee moved outside, patrons who had been shoved into paddy wagons kicked back with stiletto heels, freeing themselves. The initial cop raiders, realizing they were outnumbered by a swelling crowd, retreated to the now empty bar, and attempted to defend themselves with a fire hose. The hose could only produce an anemic trickle, and was met with howls of derisive laughter and epithets from the crowd. The raucous masses outside the bar chanted "Gay Power" and hurled trash cans and concrete blocks at the bar where the cops, now terrified, were trapped. Seymour Pine, the police scene commander, called in reinforcements and NYC's own TPF (Tactical Patrol Force) riot cops soon appeared.
Historian Martin Duberman recounts the scene:
They were a formidable sight as, linked arm in arm, they came up Christopher Street in a wedge formation that resembled (by design) a Roman legion. In their path, the rioters slowly retreated, but—contrary to police expectations—did not break and run...
(The crowd) scattered to avoid the billy clubs but then raced around the block, doubled back behind the troopers, and pelted them with debris. When the cops realized that a considerable crowd had simply re-formed to their rear, they flailed out angrily at anyone who came within striking distance. But the protesters would not be cowed. The pattern repeated itself several times: The TPF would disperse the jeering mob only to have it re-form behind them, yelling taunts, tossing bottles and bricks, setting fires in trash cans. When the police whirled around to reverse direction at one point, they found themselves face to face with their worst nightmare: a chorus line of mocking queens, their arms clasped around each other, kicking their heels in the air Rockettes-style and singing at the tops of their sardonic voices:
'We are the Stonewall girls.
We wear our hair in curls.
We wear no underwear.
We show our pubic hair...
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!'"
The streets finally cleared at 3:30a.m., but for several days later, riots continued, and the modern LGBT movement was born. One year later the first Pride marches were held in NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco in commemoration of the Stonewall riots, and more than 40 years later, June is celebrated as Pride month across the world. The Stonewall Bar became a National Historic Site in 2000.
The Stonewall LGBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon celebrates Stonewall Thursday 6/28 at Crush, 14th and Morrison. For advance tickets, go to www.dpo.org
Full disclosure, I am a member of the Stonewall Caucus...