On October 31, 1969, Memphis hosted an event that would forever change the LGBTQ community in our city. Against the backdrop of the Guild Theatre, Bill Kendall organized a revolutionary revel where men dressed as women, women dressed in costume, and everyone gathered to celebrate the art of pageantry and camp. The result was the first public drag show and pageant that Memphis had ever seen: The Miss Memphis Review.
In the 1960s, Memphis city ordinances criminalized same sex dancing, cross dressing, and acts of “vulgar character.” So Kendall strategically chose Halloween, the one night a year where a celebration of gender bending wouldn’t run afoul of these laws. When the crowds arrived at the theatre, they were dressed in costumes as well as formal finery. It was clear that this was going to be a historic event.
Fifty years later, Memphis remembers this event. The Guild and Miss Memphis will be the subject of a historical marker at the Evergreen Theatre on Halloween 2019, the first of its kind in the city. What remains of that late night in 1969 are a few photographs, oral histories that have not yet been captured, and reels of film in critical need of preservation. The Mid-South LGBTQ+ Archive seeks funds to digitize and archivally preserve the audiovisual material from that historic Halloween night. This footage stands to tell the story of what has been called “Memphis’ Stonewall” by community historian, Vincent Astor.
To date, this footage is the oldest of its kind in Memphis and The Mid-South LGBTQ+ Archive wants to make it the cornerstone of how Pride began in the Mid-South. We want our community’s trust to tell the story of all LGBTQ+ persons that call the Mid-South home. Contributions for this project will go to preserve and digitize this and similar film footage and to continue to grow the archive to include a spectrum of narratives that make up the LGBTQ+ community.