David Carter’s LGBTQ+ Work Acquired by UW-Madison Libraries Archives

September 19, 2023 By Jari Xiong, Communications

David Carter: activist, historian, author, and alum of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, passed away on May 1, 2020. Carter wrote what many scholars and critics consider the definitive text on the history of the Stonewall Inn uprising of 1969, a seminal event in LGBTQ+ history. At his death, Carter had been researching a biography of LGBTQ+ civil rights pioneer Dr. Franklin Kameny. In July of 2021, the University Archives would acquire Carter’s work and research through a generous donation from his family.

The University Archives is excited about this donor acquisition and hopes patrons can discover and use these notable archival materials.

“The Archives is digitizing the oral history audio tapes, but not everything will be available online immediately,” says University Archivist and Head of the UW-Madison Archives, Katie Nash. “The goals with digitization would be to get content off the audio cassette tapes to a more stable digital format and to make the interviews available online as permissions allow.” 

“This is likely the largest collection of interviews related to the Stonewall Inn uprising,” says Dr. Scott Seyforth, co-founder of the Madison LGBTQ+ Archive. “It may also be the largest collection of interviews with Frank Kameny, often referred to as one of the most significant figures in the American gay rights movement. David’s family is hopeful that donating these papers will allow other historians to finish the Kameny biography effort. Scholars have never had access to either of these collections, and they will likely be used for years to come.”

“During his time here at UW-Madison in 1978, David became active in gay rights issues.  He directed a local LGBTQ+ cable TV program, one of only 5 in the nation in 1979, and fought efforts to overturn a Madison city law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing. He was one of the founders of the local LGBTQ+ group, The Madison Community United (or the United). David played an important role as spokesperson and was a leader of The United during the late 1970s and early 1980s before his move to New York City in 1985. The United continues today under a different name, as OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center,” notes Seyforth.

David’s careful research made him, as the New York Times said in his obituary, “a go-to voice on Stonewall and the rights movement it helped advance.” His 2004 book, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, was the basis of the PBS American Experience documentary “Stonewall Uprising,” which won a Peabody Award. Carter’s assistance and research contributed to the effort that gained recognition of the Stonewall on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Carter was also a part of the 2015 meetings with the Interior Department that led to federal officials naming Stonewall the first LGBTQ monument in the nation in 2016.

For his book, Carter interviewed scores of participants and reconstructed a well-respected timeline of the six-day rebellion. He did so when it was still possible to talk to many participants. Those interview tapes have now been donated to University Archives and will be invaluable to scholars.

Images from the David Carter papers can be viewed below. Special thanks to the UW Archives, photos courtesy of Katie Nash.

Thank you to Dr. Scott Seyforth, co-founder of the Madison LGBTQ+ Archive, and Head of the UW-Madison Archives, Katie Nash, for their assistance in making this story possible.