Gay historian recollects past for benefit of youth

Posted on 22 Jun 2006 at 7:56pm
By David Webb Staff Writer

Johnson, 81, remembers a time in Dallas when GLBT people established meeting places on street corners



Phil Johnson

Gay historian Phil Johnson, 81, remembers a time when gay people met on a street corner to socialize, rather than in one of the multitude of gay and lesbian bars that now thrive in Dallas.

It was called “Maggie’s Corner,” and it was located at the intersection of Magnolia and Akard streets in downtown Dallas. Gay people stood and chatted in front of the Magnolia Petroleum Building underneath the statue of the flying red horse that graced the building’s roof.

The ones who met on the street in the 1940s were the lucky ones, Johnson said.

“Many of our people didn’t meet any people at all,” Johnson said. “They lived the entirety of their lives thinking they were sinners or psychologically defective.”

Johnson has devoted his life to preserving the history of Dallas’ GLBT society. He has established a vast collection of gay printed materials and memorabilia that is stored in the John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s Phil Johnson Historic Archives and Research Library, and he has been giving a seminar on gay history for 20 years.

The historian will be delivering the presentation again on Saturday at the Oak Lawn Branch Library at 1 p.m. It will include a slide show that features photographs that include the first gay Pride parade in downtown Dallas and the popular street corner.

Johnson said he believes it is essential for every gay person to be well versed in gay history.

“Gay and lesbian history is as important for gays as Jewish history is for Jews,” Johnson said. “I like to say without history, how can we have a future?”

One of Johnson’s projects over the years was to make a list of every gay bar that ever opened in the city. Many of them, such as the Bayou Club that was located in an old white mansion on Rawlins street in the late 1960s and is now the site of a parking lot, have been forgotten, he said.

“People say that is not of historic importance,” Johnson said. “They are of historic significance. This is where people met each other.”

Johnson’s slide presentation will also include a photograph of the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where the Stonewall riots in 1969 led to the birth of the gay rights movement.

Johnson said when he was growing up he had no idea there really was such a thing as gay people.

“It’s going to be hard these days for a child not to know about at least the existence of gays,” Johnson said. “I literally thought I was the only one.”

Johnson’s presentation lasts about 20 minutes, and then he opens up the meeting for questions and discussion.

“I get a great response, and I don’t know why,” Johnson said. “I’m not a great speaker, but I do my best.”

Johnson said young people seem intrigued by his presentations and want more information about the really early years from the 1940s to the 1960s. That makes sense to him, because people who are gay and older than him are scarce and unresponsive to his questions.

“I get so frustrated,” Johnson said. “I say so what was I like way back then, and they say oh, I don’t know.”

Johnson said he hopes his work documenting the history of Dallas GLBT society will help answer questions for future generations.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 23, 2006.

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