On July 15-16, the National Archives ( NARA ) will host the National Conversation on Rights and Justice: LGBTQ Human and Civil Rights, at the Center on Halsted and the Chicago History Museum. This program is part of nationwide initiative to facilitate discussion of rights in the 21st century.
The National Conversation series assumes that a knowledge of our history can help us chart a path forward. Below is one example of LGBTQ history in the National Archives' holdings. It involves the case of two men deported in 1916 for being gay.
For more examples of LGBTQ history at NARA, follow Discovering LGBTQ History, a project of the National Archives LGBTQ employee affinity group Stonewall@NARA. To increase awareness of LGBTQ holdings, help us improve the content on Wikipedia.
George and Jim
Jim South, a 24-year-old Canadian real estate agent, moved to Detroit in 1915. Periodically, he returned to Canada to visit family and friends. On one such trip, he met George McBurney, a drapery salesman. A long-distance, romantic relationship developed between the two. They exchanged numerous letterssometimes two or three a dayand saw each other when they could. George moved to Detroit in late 1915. All seemed to be well, but it wouldn't last.
On April 10, 1916, the U.S. Immigration Bureau issued a warrant for Jim's arrest on the grounds that, while visiting Canada, he and George had committed a crime of "moral turpitude," specifically buggery, "an unnatural, immoral act." George was arrested on the same charge. During Jim's interrogation, he confirmed that he had been sexually intimate with George at the Walker Hotel in Toronto. U.S. officials ruled that this violated American immigration law and ordered their immediate deportation.
But how had Jim and George's personal lives gotten so tangled up in the U.S. immigration bureaucracy? The answer was a nosy landlady. Jim had kept the love letters that George had sent to him. Jim's boarding-house owner had found the letters and reported him to immigration authorities.
The letters, now among the hundreds of thousands of Immigration documents in the holdings of the National Archives, demonstrate George's deep affection for Jim. After one visit, George wrote:
"My Dear Jim, I seem to be going around like I was lost because I kind of felt at the time it would help pass the awful long time that stands between us before I can have my dear lover in my arms again…."
U.S. officials thought George's "love letters" were of a "very effeminate style" that indicated "that both young men have been addicted to indecent, unnatural, and immoral practices." During his interrogation, a clearly nervous Jim was asked, "Is it your opinion that the wording of these letters [from George] is almost effeminate? He replied, "Yes, they are a little that way."
Interrogators asked an equally nervous George, "Didn't you write him several letters in a very effeminate style?" George answered, "Yes." The immigration officials then probed further into George and Jim's relationship.
"Did you and he ever display any signs of affection in an effeminate mannereffeminate caresses? [Long pause]"
"Well perhaps both of us did give way and say how glad we were to be with one another."
"Did you ever kiss him?"
Officials also asked Jim if George had ever bought him a ring. He replied yes. George had given it to him during one of Jim's visits to Toronto. "Was it inscribed or engraved with any significant lettering," immigration officials asked? Jim replied that the inscription read: "Love Finds Its Way. From George to Jim."
In Detroit, George and Jim believed that they had worked out a means of meeting in relative privacy that was unavailable in their boarding houses. They rented a separate apartment that they used occasionally so that they could be together away from the eyes and ears of fellow boarders. Immigration officials questioned them on this matter as well.
U.S. officials found that the letters, the ring, and the apartment proved that both men belonged "to that class in describing which the English language does not supply a polite term." They ordered Jim and George's immediate deportation as their "removal from the United States would be highly beneficial to society in general."
Rather than be deported, Jim voluntarily took the ferry back to Canada on June 20, 1916. George similarly left the U.S. for Canada a few days later. This left open the possibility that they might legally return to the United States. Jim did so four days after having left Detroit. No records of his life afterwards have yet been found.
George returned in 1925 and settled in Buffalo, New York, where he applied for citizenship and worked in a retail store. He lived there with 28-year-old Arthur Boyle, a World War I veteran and former lodger with George and his mother. Federal records cannot tell us whether George and Arthur had a romantic relationship. However, they continued to live together at least until 1940. There are no U.S. government documents that indicate whether Jim and George had any further contact. George died in 1943.
For further information on the National Conversations on Rights and Justice: LGBTQ Human and Civil Rights, go the National Archives website at www.archives.gov/amending-america/join/chicago.html. To register to attend, please go to www.archivesfoundation.org/amendingamerica/conversations/lgbtq. For the Discovering LGBTQ History Tumblr, go to lgbtqarchives.tumblr.com .
To continue the work of the National Archives' LGBTQ Wikipedia edit-a-thon go to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wiki_Loves_Pride_2016/DC. The event will feature local and national leaders, YEPP, and remarks by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero and noted poet Richard Blanco.