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Archiving Charlotte LGBT Community's History

The Levine Museum for the New South will focus on Charlotte’s LGBT history in an exhibit that opens this summer. Some of that history is being archived at UNC Charlotte.

Credit Courtesy of Special Collections / J. Murrey Atkins Library
J. Murrey Atkins Library
The twelve-story William R. Barringer Hotel opened in 1940 and had a "Bamboo Room Bar" that hosted gay men one night of the week. In 1975, it was converted into senior housing.

Officially, Joshua Burford is the assistant director for sexual and gender diversity at UNC Charlotte’s Multicultural Resource Center.

Unofficially, you can call him a collector – at least since April. He’s amassed 50 boxes worth of local LGBT history, mostly through donations.

The boxes are full of photos, mementos and letters.

During a meeting with special collections librarians, Burford pulls out a thick manila folder from one of the boxes. It's full of hate mail that belonged to an openly gay counseling professor and gay rights activist Bob Barret.

"It is breathtaking and terrible," Burford says. "So like pre-e-mail, people writing him hate mail and putting their name on this stuff."

In one letter from 1994, a man writes: "When the Devil takes you of AIDS, the general public will rejoice." And that’s one of the milder letters.

Credit Tasnim Shamma
Bob Barret, a former UNC Charlotte professor, saved all of the hate mail he received during his time as an LGBT rights activist. This letter criticizes his "love style."

Burford believes he's found evidence of Charlotte’s first unofficial gay bar in a landmark hotel on North Tryon Street downtown that was a gathering place for gay men on Thursday nights.

"It was from 1940. It was in the Barringer Hotel," Burford says. "And there's a woman still alive in Charlotte who worked there, and so she apparently has a picture of inside of the bar."

The hotel is now senior housing.

The archives also include a piece of an AIDS memorial quilt from a local family in memory of their son, Paul Sumrell who died in December 2004 and campaign posters for Sue Henry, the first openly lesbian candidate to run for mayor in 1995.

Credit Tasnim Shamma
Librarians and students look at a piece of an AIDS memorial quilt donated to the special collections at the UNC Charlotte's library. The quilt is from a local family in memory of Paul Sumrell, who was battling AIDS and died on December 3, 2004.

Librarian Meredith Evans partnered with Burford to help build a permanent home for the items through the special collection. 

"The goal is to make sure that there are materials that people can review and research and use to continue the legacy of this community and gain new insights," Evans says. "We want to be that safe haven and that hub for conversation to enlighten people and just to keep the dialogue going."

And this summer, the conversation continues at the Levine Museum of the New South, when pieces from the archives will be on display in a new exhibit.