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Milk letters up for auction [22 July, 2009]

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With the release of a movie based on his life, Harvey Milk’s life and work have gained a new significance in the public eye.  Milk was the first openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and served for 11 months before being assassinated by Dan White in 1978.  While there is considerable material about his life in San Francisco, relatively little is known about his early years.  On July 28, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, 1338 W. Lake, will offer two signed letters from Milk that provide a glimpse into his thoughts and life in that time period.

Mary Williams of Leslie Hindman told Windy City Times that the letters were addressed to Patrick Mormon, a Las Vegas-based antique dealer and a close friend of Milk.  They were bequeathed to the present owner by Mormon.  According to Williams, the missives are important because they reveal a different side to Milk, and they speak to two predominant issues in the gay community today: the ban on gays in the military and same-sex marriage.

One of the letters is postmarked December 15, 1954, sent from Norfolk, Va.  Milk wrote: “Pat—Don’t say or do anything.  I’ve been turned in by Johnny Teynel and Marty ‘Kid’ (illegible) and a third party.”  Scholars have generally agreed that Milk’s discharge from the army in 1955 was unrelated to his homosexuality.  This letter suggests Milk’s preoccupation with the impending discharge.

The second letter is postmarked USS Kittiwake, New York, although the specific date is unknown.  In it, Milk reveals that he is about to go to Dallas, Texas, to embark on a possible relationship with an unnamed person: “I’m just starting 10 days leave (in 5 min) and I’m on my way to Dallas, Texas to see someone.  If things work out as I want I may be a happily married man by the end of this year.  ‘Gay marriage,’ that is.  I think I wrote you about him—well we wrote each other and before long he wanted me to come to Texas—here I come.  Will let you know how things work out...”

Milk and Joe Campbell met in Queens, N.Y., and they moved to Dallas in 1957, where they lived together for six years.

The letters will be offered at auction during the Fine Books and Manuscripts auction on Tuesday, July 28, and will be on public exhibition Sunday-Monday, July 26-27.  Williams estimates that they could sell for as much as $4,000-$6,000 combined, given the rarity of items from Milk’s early life.

Originally published in Windy City Times on 22 July, 2009.

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