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In the 1880s, a formerly enslaved Black American became the earliest-known self-described drag queen and the earliest-known queer activist in the United States. His name was William Dorsey Swann, and he inspired a rebellious group of butlers, coachmen, and cooks — most of them formerly enslaved people as well — to risk their newly attained freedom, their livelihoods, and their reputations to create a secret world of crossdressing balls in Washington, D.C. — the center of American power, prestige, and influence. Swann’s organization is the only known queer resistance group formed until the German physician Magnus Hirschfeld created his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee in Berlin in 1897. In this talk, Channing Gerard Joseph — a lecturer at the University of Southern California and a former journalist at The New York Times — will draw on previously unexplored archival sources to examine Swann’s far-reaching influence on U.S. history and culture.
Bio: Channing Gerard Joseph (he/him or she/her) is the winner of the 2021 Berlin Prize and a 2019 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant for his research and writing on Black queer U.S. history. He has been a staff editor and writer at The New York Times, Associated Press, and elsewhere. A leading expert on race and sexuality, Joseph regularly appears on the BBC, the CBC, and other international outlets. He is the author of the forthcoming House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens — and Changed the World. He teaches at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He completed his BA at Oberlin College and MSc in Journalism at Columbia University, and has also worked at Oberlin and the State University of New York–Plattsburgh. His work has been supported by a Logan Nonfiction Fellowship, a Whiting Grant for Creative Nonfiction, and a Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship, the International Center for Journalists, Ford Foundation, and Scripps Howard Foundation, among others. Joseph has lectured widely on narrative nonfiction, journalism; early LGBTQ history; diversity, inclusion, and access in education and the workplace; and African-American history, literature, and genealogy.
HU BerlinUnter den Linden 6