Located in the northeastern corner of Georgia, Resaca is a small town with a current population less than 1,000. In that rural town in May 1864, the Battle of Resaca was fought — the first of many in the Civil War campaign that led to the Battle of Atlanta.
Union troops defeated Confederates in a bloody clash that led to the surrender of Atlanta to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, who later ordered the city burned.
The Battle of Atlanta, fought on July 22, 1864, is still alive today at one of Atlanta’s famous tourist spots, the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum located in Grant Park next to Zoo Atlanta.
The massive oil painting — the canvas is 42 feet tall, 358 feet in circumference and weighs more than 10,000 pounds — draws people fascinated with history as well as art.
Resaca, with its crucial tie to Civil War history, also has a crucial tie to queer history.
Crawford Barton, who became famous for his photographs of the “golden age of gay awakening” in San Francisco, was born in Resaca in 1943 and raised on a farm. He lived in Atlanta before moving to San Francisco in the late 1960s, part of a queer migration out west as people sought to find themselves and others like them.
Barton became well-known in San Francisco for photographs that captured gay life as the Castro changed from a middle-class neighborhood to a renowned gayborhood.
IN SEARCH OF QUEER IDENTITY
It is the story of queer migration into urban areas that Atlanta’s John Q “idea collective” seeks to tell by sharing Barton’s story.
Made up of Joey Orr, Andy Ditzler and Wesley Chenault, John Q will hold two events at the Atlanta Cyclorama on May 17-18 titled “The Campaign for Atlanta: An Essay on Queer Migration.”
But the event won’t be an essay in the traditional sense of words written on a page. Instead this essay will attempt to explain what they have learned through hours of research by utilizing an interesting and historic apparatus.
The idea of queer migration interested John Q as they thought of how many people move to larger cities to live as openly LGBT people.
“Atlanta has been a destination for queer migration for the state and the Southeast like San Francisco and New York has been for the nation,” says Orr.
This queer migration would lead people to believe that LGBT people only lived in large cities. But what if the history of these queer migrants was brought back “kicking and screaming,” as Chenault has described, to their original homes, including rural cities — how does that impact our queer memory and history?
John Q struck up a working relationship and friendship with the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. The GLBT Historical Society opened a museum in 2011, the only stand-alone venue in the country of its kind.
John Q, whose Memory Flash project in 2009 presented historical queer sites by having attendees visit and experience the space for themselves, was thrilled to visit a museum preserving queer history.
While there, the John Q members were encouraged to learn about Crawford Barton because of his photographs. It was then they found out he was from Resaca, Ga.
‘MEMORY RATHER THAN HISTORY’
With that knowledge, John Q members knew they had a project that could bring together this famous queer photographer and the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta.
“The whole Atlanta Campaign becomes a metaphor for queer migration … and also how migration, whether military or queer, is represented visually,” Ditzler says.
Orr recalls looking through Barton’s archived materials and finding boxes of 8 mm films with notes scribbled on them, most likely in Barton’s handwriting.
“One of them had ‘Resaca’ written on it, another had ‘Resaca graveyard.’ This is a guy famous for photographing the Castro,” Orr says.
“We had to go all the way to San Francisco to find out about him,” Ditzler says.
When people think of queer history, they think of the Castro or Stonewall, Orr says. But how does a neighborhood or city become the Castro?
“We were thinking of the Cyclorama and troops entering into the city and how this is a metaphor for queer migration,” Orr says. “We’ve always said we are interested in memory rather than history.”
Top photo: Crawford Barton, who took iconic photos of gay life in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, was born in Resaca, Ga., the city where the Battle of Atlanta started.(Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society)