Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk, introduction by Dustin Lance Black, foreword by Armistead Maupin. Newmarket Press 2009, $19.95, 144 pp.
Imagine a job that is so perfect for you that it not only becomes your passion, but your doing it changes attitudes and lives and will resonate for decades. Yes, a job that important.
But imagine that this job also comes with a chance of death. In fact, the probability is such that you map out the fastest route to the emergency room before appearing publicly.
Harvey Milk asked for that job not once, not twice, but four times. In Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk, you get an intimate portrait of a man some called a saint.
It’s been 30 years since Harvey Milk’s death, and despite the recent movie, generations of gay men and women may not know about his contributions. This book remedies the situation.
Much of Milk’s life until he was 40 was unremarkable. He was born in 1930 in New York, attended New York State College for Teachers in 1951, and joined the Navy. After an honorable discharge, he taught school, worked on Wall Street and developed an interest in theater. He moved to San Francisco temporarily in the late 1960s and permanently in 1972. With his partner, Scott Smith, Milk opened a camera shop on Castro Street. There, they hung a sign that read, "We are VERY open."
Milk was popular, known in The Castro as a go-to guy who made things happen. He got politically involved in his neighborhood when he set up voter registration tables in front of the camera store. A few years later, when the Teamsters Union launched a boycott against a beer-maker’s anti-union policy, Milk threw his support behind the union and gained valuable allies.
On his fourth try for office in 1977, Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly-gay man in America to be voted into an influential office. But aside from what he did politically — and aside from the message his presence on the board sent to straight America — Milk’s actions on behalf of the gay community and his fierce support of coming out were perhaps his greatest legacy.
Milk is, of course, filled with pictures of Harvey, his friends and lovers, his beloved store and his activism. What makes this book important, though, are the first-hand accounts from the people who knew him best. Those same people had hands in the making of the movie, which is re-counted in the second half of this book.
If you knew or remembered Harvey Milk, this book will be a treasure. If you want to know more about him, reading it is no job — it’s a joy.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2009.