That’s how Seymour Pine of the New York Police Department’s Morals Division described the raid he led on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969, and the unprecedented refusal of the gay men in the bar to hang their heads in shame and go silently into the paddy wagons. The “Stonewall riots” that resulted are generally regarded as the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States. A documentary featuring Pine and other participants, Stonewall Uprising, aired on PBS’s American Experience last week. (It played in independent theaters in 2010; DVDs are available.)
Pine’s comment made me think about resistance to oppression. Sometimes all it takes is one person or a few people saying, “We’re not going” to light the spark of a movement or a revolution.
Fourteen years earlier Rosa Parks had sat down on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. When the bus driver told her to stand up to give her seat to a white passenger, she said, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.” Later in her autobiography she wrote: