Craig Rodwell (1940-1993) emerged as one of the most important leaders of the pre- and post-Stonewall gay rights movement. Born in Chicago and schooled in the Christian Science Church, he moved to New York City in 1959 at the age of 18. He was anxious to join the activities of the Mattachine Society, but couldn’t since he was under 21. His first “serious” relationship was with future San Francisco activist Harvey Milk (then politically conservative and working on Wall Street), who he met in 1962 while cruising on Central Park West. Rodwell became more politically active as a young gay man partly as a result of a number of incidents with the police.
In 1964, he began volunteering for Mattachine, and formed Mattachine Young Adults. He joined activist Randy Wicker at the Army Induction Center on Whitehall Street, protesting the military’s discrimination against gay men, which has been cited as the first LGBT rights demonstration in the United States. The next year he was one of the organizers of a number of East Coast Homophile Organizations’ (ECHO) protests in Washington, D.C., as well as the group’s July 4th Reminder Day protest in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia (which occurred annually until 1969). Rodwell was one of the four participants of the “Sip-In” at Julius’ Bar in 1966, which challenged the State Liquor Authority’s discriminatory policy of revoking the licenses of bars that served known or suspected gay men and lesbians. He attempted to get Mattachine to open a storefront in order to engage directly with the community. After he was rebuffed, he quit the group. In 1967, Rodwell opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, America’s first gay and lesbian bookstore, at 291 Mercer Street. The store served as the headquarters of his organization, Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods (HYMN).
Rodwell moved into Apartment 3V in a recently-built apartment building at 350 Bleecker Street in 1968, and lived here for the rest of his life. His boyfriend, Fred Sargeant, who also lived here from 1968 to 1971, worked as the manager of the bookstore and joined Rodwell in his political activities. The publication Hymnal, advocating more radical LGBT activism, was produced in the apartment.
Rodwell and Sargeant joined in the Stonewall Rebellion in June 1969. Rodwell’s most enduring contribution to solidifying the significance of Stonewall in LGBT history was the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which was held in June 1970 to commemorate the events of a year earlier. This was the precursor to all annual Pride Marches. A number of March organizational meetings were held in his apartment, and Rodwell and Sargeant did much of the planning here.