Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk

Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk


Dustin Lance Black, Forward by Armistead Maupin,

Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk. Featuring oral histories, archival photographs, movie stills, and the story of the making of the Gus Van Sant film.

New York: Newmarket Press, 2009.

First edition. Hardback, 144 pp. Pictorial dust jacket, unclipped. 130 photographs, in black and white and colour. With 12 signatures on free endpaper, dated 19 February 2009, including both the authors Black and Maupin, as well as the activists Cleve Jones, Michael Wong, Denton Smith, Dan Nicoletta, and Medora Payne. Near fine condition.

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When Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on 8 January 1978, he made national headlines as the first openly gay candidate in California’s history to have won a seat in office. It was dangerous work, being out and in turn advocating for LGBT rights from such a high-profile platform. Milk had received death threats since his run for the California State Assembly in 1976, and even made a tape in which he dictated the names of possible successors in the event of his death. That tape would come to be seen as prophetic, when eleven months after his election, on 27 November 1978, Milk was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by fellow city supervisor Dan White. White—a former police officer and firefighter—was only found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison, rather than given a first degree murder charge. Such a verdict placed Milk’s death in league with the deeply entrenched homophobia of the time—the kind encouraged by the likes of Anita Bryant and John Briggs—and prompted angry protests to “Avenge Harvey Milk,” culminating in the White Night riots. 

This book looks both before and beyond those fraught years, to Milk’s early life, and his ongoing legacy. Dustin Lance Black’s introduction describes the relevance of raising awareness about Milk’s life amidst a new climate of homophobia at the time of the book’s publication (2008). With an aim to use history to galvanise protest on behalf of LGBTQ+ equality, the book is the culmination of Black’s research over the course of many years. In the first half of the book, the archival material gathered and reproduced here offer a beautiful and accessible way into the world of Harvey Milk and gay politics in San Francisco in the 1970s. In the second half of the book, “Milk: The Making of the Movie,” Black takes over in his role as screenwriter for the Academy Award-winning movie Milk, describing the genesis of the movie, a behind-the-scenes look at its production, and his collaboration with Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho), a luminary of the New Queer Cinema movement. What is wonderful to read about is the full cooperation with friends and colleagues of Milk in both the historical research Black conducted, and ultimately the film itself—many of the extras used for scenes of political rallies and protests in 2008 had been there the first time around.  

“These photos and the accompanying quotes from my research interviews in this book don’t tell the story of a man born to lead,” Black writes in the introduction, “but of a regular man with many flaws who did what many others wouldn’t…he did what his people need to do again today, thirty years later…Harvey Milk stood up and fought back.” This copy of the book in particular captures two moments of queer activism separated by thirty years. Dated in one of the inscriptions to 19 February 2009, the book’s compilers came together with several of those who knew Harvey Milk and participated in telling his life story on page and screen. It contains the signatures of Black, Maupin, Milk’s friends Denton Smith and Medora Payne, his protege Cleve Jones who conceived of AIDS Memorial Quilt, and his campaign photographer Dan Nicolletta. Also featured is the signature of Chinese-American activist Michael Wong. As Black writes beneath his name: “Give ‘Em Hope!” echoing Milk’s own famous “Hope” speeches: “You’ve got to elect gay people so that…the thousands upon thousands like that [gay] child know that there’s hope for a better world. There’s hope for a better tomorrow.”


Harvey Milk, An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2013).

Randy Shilts,The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982).