Beam, Joseph

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Born in Philadelphia in 1954, Joseph Beam was an African-American gay rights activist and author who worked to foster greater acceptance of gay life in the black community by relating the gay experience with the struggle for civil rights in the United States.

After his graduation from Franklin College in rural Indiana in 1976, Beam began working at Giovanni's Room, a gay and lesbian bookstore in Philadelphia, where he became acquainted with local and national gay figures and institutions. His articles and short stories appeared in numerous gay newspapers and publications, including Au Courant, Blackheart, Changing Men, Gay Community News, Philadelphia Gay News, The Advocate, New York Native, Body Politic, and the Windy City Times. He joined the Executive Committee of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays in 1985, and became the editor of their journal Black/Out. In 1986, he published IN THE LIFE, an anthology of writings by and about black gay men, to counteract the absence of positive images of gay men of color in the media and the subculture of white gay activists. He was working on a sequel to In the Life at the time of his death of HIV related disease in 1989. This work was completed by his mother, Dorothy Beam, and the gay poet Essex Hemphill, and published under the title BROTHER TO BROTHER in 1991.

From the description of Joseph Beam papers, 1967-1990. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 144652297

Born in Philadelphia in 1954, Joseph F. Beam was an African-American gay rights activist and author who worked to foster greater acceptance of gay life in the black community by relating the gay experience with the struggle for civil rights in the United States. His father Sun Beam worked as a bank security guard in Philadelphia. His mother, Dorothy, became a wage earner while still an adolescent, and attended evening classes to obtain her high school diploma. She later earned a college degree in elementary education and a master's degree from Temple University. She worked for more than twenty years as a teacher and guidance counselor in the Philadelphia school system.

Baptised a Catholic, the young Beam studied mainly in parochial schools, including the Malvern Preparatory School, St. Thomas More High School and Franklin College, a small Baptist college in rural Indiana. An only child, his boyhood was difficult and solitary; he was often the only non-white pupil in his classes. Later, at Franklin College, he was influenced by the civil rights and the Black Power movements, and played an active role in the local Black Student Union. Also, as a member of the Franklin Independent Men, he helped organize several conferences on campus and was active in college journalism and radio programming. After graduation in 1976, Beam remained in the Midwest, enrolling first in a Master's Degree program in communications and then working as a waiter in Ames, Iowa. He returned to Philadelphia in 1979.

Giovanni's Room in the Center City District in Philadelphia was one of the main bookstores and contact points for lesbians and gays in the 1970s and 1980s. Beam became well acquainted with local and national gay figures and institutions while employed there in the early 1980s. His articles and short stories began appearing around the same time in numerous gay newspapers and magazines, including Au Courant, Blackheart, Changing Men, Gay Community News, Philadelphia Gay News, The Advocate, New York Native, Body Politic and the Windy City Times. The Lesbian and Gay Press Association awarded him a certificate for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist in 1984. The following year, he was hired as a consultant by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Friends Service Committee. He joined the Executive Committee of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays in 1985, and became the editor of their new journal Black/Out.

Beam began preparing and collecting materials for an anthology of writings by and about black gay men in 1982. His goal was to counteract the absence of positive images of gay men of color in the media and their exclusion from the cultural world of white gay rights activists. Inspired by the humanism of the black feminist and lesbian movement, he saw his work as part of a broad effort to correct and redefine the reality of race, sex, class and gender in the United States. Through his writings, he sought to alleviate the alienation of black homosexuals and help create a community of their own. In the Life was published by Allyson Press in 1986. It was ignored by most African-American critics and institutions, but was greeted as a literary and cultural milestone in the gay community.

Joseph F. Beam was working on a sequel to In the Life at the time of his death of HIV related disease in 1989. This work was completed by Dorothy Beam and the gay poet Essex Hemphill, and published under the title Brother to Brother in 1991. Both books were featured in a television documentary, “Tongues United,” in 1991. “As a writer, Joe was more profound than prolific,” wrote his friend Craig Harris after his death. “His articles and essays were poetic, containing turned phrases and puns, metaphors in meters that made his writing musical with penetrating meaning. He took great pride in his skill and devoted time to multiple rewrites, crafting his work to create the style which other writers of the Black genre dubbed `Beamesque'.” (“Your Life's All In Your Dreams and Your Dreams Are All Your Life,” Gay Community News, Feb. 5-11, 1989.)

From the guide to the Joseph Beam papers, 1967-1990, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Saint, Assoto, 1957-1993. Assotto Saint papers, 1981-1993. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Marlon Riggs Collection, 1957-1994 Cecil H. Green Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Joseph Beam papers, 1967-1990 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
creatorOf Beam, Joseph. Joseph Beam papers, 1967-1990. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Records of, Sojourner, (inclusive), (bulk), 1920-2004, 1975-2002 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Beam, Dorothy. person
associatedWith Black and White Men Together. corporateBody
associatedWith Blackheart Collective (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Delany, Samuel R. person
associatedWith Dixon, Melvin, 1950-1992. person
associatedWith Franklin College (Franklin, Ind.) corporateBody
associatedWith Garrett, Daniel person
associatedWith Garrett, Daniel. person
associatedWith Gerald, Gilberto person
associatedWith Gerald, Gilberto. person
associatedWith Harris, Craig. person
associatedWith Hemphill, Essex person
associatedWith Hemphill, Essex. person
associatedWith Jenkins, Lawrence. person
associatedWith Julien, Isaac person
associatedWith Julien, Isaac. person
associatedWith Lorde, Audre person
associatedWith Lorde, Audre. person
associatedWith McCoy, Renee person
associatedWith McCoy, Renee. person
associatedWith Move (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Parker, Pat, 1944-1989. person
associatedWith Parkerson, Michelle. person
associatedWith Riggs, Marlon. person
associatedWith Robinson, Colin person
associatedWith Robinson, Colin. person
associatedWith Saint, Assoto, 1957- person
associatedWith Saint, Assoto, 1957-1993. person
associatedWith Smith, Barbara, 1946- person
associatedWith Smith, Michael J., 1944- person
associatedWith Sojourner (Cambridge, Mass.) corporateBody
associatedWith Tate, Percy L person
associatedWith Tate, Percy L. person
associatedWith Walker, Alice, 1944- person
associatedWith Weddo, Dan person
associatedWith Weddo, Dan. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
South Africa
Subject
Gays' writings, American
African American prisoners
Gay liberation movement
Women authors, Black
AIDS (Disease)--Prevention
Gay men--South Africa
African American gays
African American lesbians
African American gays--Poetry
American literature--African American authors
African American gays--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
Gay men
Prisoners' writing, American
African American gays--Literary collections
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1954-12-30

Death 1988-12-27

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