"LONELY HUNTERS: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968" by James T. Sears

"LONELY HUNTERS: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968"

Email this review


A groundbreaking history of post--WW II, pre-Stonewall gay and lesbian life in the American South. Using diaries, letters, newspapers, subpoenaed testimony, court and legislative documents, and, most powerfully, personal interviews, historian Sears (Growing Up Gay in the South, not reviewed) tells a story long overlooked by gay and southern historians alike. It is well-documented and compellingly presented with great emotional range, describing not only the brutal bar raids and cloistered lives of southern homosexuals but also the fabulously coat-tailed club-goers and deeply bonded communities. The chapter on Miami, for instance, decribes that city's famous gay beaches, as well as its government-organized witch hunts, in which careers were ruined and gays were pressured to name names. Some of the personal stories are even stranger than southern fiction: Gordon Langley Hall--a British âmigrâ (whose father was Vida Sackville-West's chauffeur), prominent Charleston, S.C., socialite, and biographer of Lady Bird Johnson--was, after a 1968 sex-change operation, welcomed into the Ladies of the Confederacy as Dawn Pepita Hall--until she married a black man. Sears's book is consistently engaging yet never historically simplistic--the complex themes of race, class, regional identity, generation, and sexuality are all properly treated as vital parts of the story. Sears interweaves individuals' stories with narratives of political events that lend them broader context, and he's just as careful to humanize social developments by describing real people's lives. Though churches are given short shrift, a foreword assures us that the author intends to address it more substantively in future work. A fine contribution to both southern history and gay history that shouldn't be overlooked by enthusiasts of either field.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Westview