You can find the most democratic institution on campus in an unexpected place: the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL). 

MARBL emphasizes its role as a free, public institution, accessible to any and all interested community members. These values were demonstrated last Thursday when MARBL offered an open house for its first exhibition, “Building a Movement in the Southeast.” The exhibit was curated by Laney graduate student Kelly H. Ball, a Ph.D. candidate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies – and Randy Gue, curator of MARBL’s Modern Political and Historical Collections.

With such a title, MARBL could have showcased this exhibition in any number of ways. Thankfully, the exhibit was a far cry from a dry AP Euro textbook with a thick chapter on minority issues. Instead of coming off as a lecture or lesson, the exhibition was presented as a collection of personal stories celebrating the politics, culture and public health initiatives of LGBT communities in Atlanta and across the South.  

In place of engraved plaques with tiny words and portraits of elderly people, I was greeted by a variety of posters, scrapbooks, journals, pamphlets, videos, concert and theater programs, not to mention an entire showcase devoted to a whopping 924 rare gay pulp fiction paperbacks with titles like “A Gay, Gay World” and “Sixty Nine Gay Street.”

Put a little more tactfully, one Emory staff member commented, “it really embodies the fascinating progress of the gay liberation movement, making a strong offering to the literary world while making a bold statement.” I don’t want to give anything away, but if I do say so myself, the colorful cover illustrations left little to the imagination and are well worth checking out.

Another interesting and moving element was the wide variety of emotions being shared and experienced at the exhibition. 

Many visitors took on a somber tone as they detailed the struggles of LGBT communities in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic began to escalate. “It’s incredible, the reactions we get from people talking about their personal stories, people who experienced these events firsthand,” Ball said during the exhibition. “Some are very painful, as they discussed state and government policy and the fates of family and loved ones.”

Gue presented the response in Atlanta to the AIDS epidemic, gesturing to the pamphlets and booklets of the various grassroots organizations whose work proved valuable in that trying time. Project Open Hand, for example, commandeered a humble kitchen in a church to start making meals for bedridden friends.

The open house also drew in noteworthy attendees such as David Goldman and Valeria Shaw, former cast members of “The American Music Show,” one of the longest running public-access television shows in the nation. (RuPaul, Atlanta’s own renowned actor and drag queen, began his career as a cast member on the show.) “The show really embodies the do-it-yourself aesthetic. It’s really funny and definitely worth watching,” Gue explained.

The exhibition boasts an impressive collection of memorabilia from the show, including original videotapes and handwritten credit sheets. Shaw reflected on the gaudy costumes and refreshing parody of show. “We all had so much fun, laughing at ourselves and having a really great time. I really don’t remember there being much backlash,” she recalled.

The average Emory student can take note of a section devoted specifically to LGBT materials in the Emory University archives, including the logbook of the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Life office from 1991-1994, as well as paraphernalia from Emory’s Gay Liberation Committee.

In addition, the MARBL staff stressed the accessibility of the exhibition and its materials. Of the mission of the collection, Gue said that “one of the things that we’re doing with all our collections is supporting the teaching and research mission of the university.”

“The goal is to get people using this material for their own projects and into the classrooms for people to use and discover these fascinating stories,” he added.

Not to mention that the exhibition continues to receive new materials and donations on a regular basis. Students are encouraged to take advantage of this fantastic resource for their research or to simply taste the awe-inspiring struggles and triumphs of the LGBT community in historical Atlanta.

– By Emily Li