we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.Combahee River Collective Statement 1977
Joseph Fairchild Beam, was born in 1954. A Black gay man living in America, he died alone of AIDS related illnesses, unable or unwilling to share that he had been diagnosed HIV+, just three days before his 34th birthday in 1988. An all too familiar tale of a Black gay man of his time. Joseph Beam, like so many of those gone too soon in the devastating wave of death the virus caused, was a remarkable man. He was a writer, activist, and organiser. He was able to learn from the burgeoning Black feminist movement about the importance of collective meaning-making, and to be inspired by the efforts of groups like the Combahee River Collective, which included his friends Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith, Black women who were articulating new narratives and building publishing houses to overcome the mainstream’s reticence to offer platforms to marginalised groups.
Joseph Beam is remembered for editing the first anthology of Black gay men’s writing, In The Life published in 1986, for being the editor of Black/Out, the newsletter of the National Black Coalition of Lesbian and Gays, where he was on the Exec Committee, and for initiating the second anthology, Brother To Brother; completed by Essex Hemphill after Joeseph Beam’s death, it was published in 1991. Joseph is perhaps best remembered for his ability to capture a moment, inspire deep reflection, and issue stirring calls to action in his writing. He is credited with popularising the phrase:
28th December is Joseph Beam Day
Mayor Wilson Goode, Philadelphia’s first Black mayor – of whom Beam was a vocal critic, for his decision to bomb Black citizens of the city (the repercussions of the 1985 bombing of MOVE still reverberate today) – declared Joseph Beam Day in 1991, just three years after Joseph’s death. Since 2017, Philadelphia-based activist and educator, Marcus Borton, has worked to revive the day via @joebeamday
“I will do everything I can to keep my son’s name in history. I want it to go down in history” – day in celebration of inspirational parenting
Joseph Beam Day is also a celebration of Dorothy Beam, Joseph’s mother, who was a driving force in ensuring her son’s life had a literary and political legacy. Dorothy and Sun, Joseph’s parents, attended the launch of the first Black gay anthology, edited by Beam, ‘In The Life‘ in 1986. However, it was not until Joseph’s death that Dorothy understood the significance or extent of the work that he had been able to do. Through her grief, Dorothy Beam became the animating force behind the completion of the second volume of writings by Black gay men, Brother to Brother – inviting Essex Hemphill to move into her home so that he could access all of Beam’s papers, and complete what Joseph had started. Dorothy was also instrumental in ensuring the archiving of the Joseph Beam Papers at the Schomburg Research Center in NYC, that now form the nucleus of the ‘In The Life Archive’ driven by Steven G Fullwood.
With Charles Stephens, from Atlanta’s Counter Narrative Project, Steven G Fullwood co-wrote and published ‘Black Gay Genius‘ in 2014 – subtitled, ‘Answering Joseph Beam’s Call‘ the edited collection set out to continue the work Beam started in building intellectual and political movements through developing shared narratives and being visible to each other.
BLKOUT_UK owes its own debt to the activism of the 80s. We are proud that the strong connection between London and New York and through them to a Black queer diaspora mean that we can continue to learn alongside each other and share in each other’s triumphs.
This year, we too are keen to mark Joseph Beam Day, and hope that this can be the first of many opportunities to build greater understanding of our past, present and futures together in which ‘Black men loving Black men’ remains a call to action.
This month’s edition of Hard Pressed will be an online edition focused on the legacy of Joseph Beam. In the spirit of Beam’s convening, we are also seeking to collect ten responses from Black queer men to the questions that will be posed to the panel.
Could you be one of the respondents? It’s simple to join in. Record your answer now – the deadline is midday on Tuesday 28th December 2021
- I Dare Myself To Dream – A Brilliance Remastered Chant and Meditation on Joseph Beam
- The Joseph Beam Papers, New York Public Library/Schomburg Research Center
- Black/Out Magazine (Summer 1986)
- In The Life – Introduction (2nd Edition)
- Our Histories, Our Healing – Joseph Beam Day (Yolo Akili, BEAM)
- Anthology of a Mother’s Grief – On Dorothy Beam (Washington Post, 1991)
Visibility is survival . . . survival is visibilityPhiladelphia Gay News 25/10/1984 – invitation to contributors
We are by virtue of our sexual preference outlaws, outcasts, and outsiders. The simplest act, like going to a poorly-lit bar, is nothing less than revolutionary. So, it follows that we are revolutionaryEditorial, Inaugural Edition of Black/Out, National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays
I called a personal moratorium on the writing of white gay men, and read, exclusively work by lesbians and Black women … Their courage told me that I too could be courageous. I, too, could not only live with what I feel, but could draw succour from it, nurture it, and make it visible.Leaving the Shadows Behind
Black men loving Black men is a call to action, an acknowledgement of responsibility. We look after our own when the night grows cold and silentEditorial, Black/Out
When I standWhen My Brother Fell (for Joseph Beam)
On the front lines now,
Cussing the lack of truth,
The absence of willful change
And strategic coalitions,
I realize sewing quilts
Will not bring you back
Nor save us …
Featured in a campaign by London Underground to celebrate London’s LGBT+ communities, in one of 10 specially commissioned iconic roundels
Brother To Brother forms the inspiration for our new apparel collection – setting us on our path to becoming financially self sufficient