From June 28 to July 3, 1969, the Stonewall rebellion took place inside the Stonewall Inn at 51-53 Christopher Street, across the street in Christopher Park, and on several surrounding streets. The event is credited as a key turning point in the LGBT rights movement. As historian Lillian Faderman has written, Stonewall was “the shot heard round the world…crucial because it sounded the rally for the movement.”
(The bar, which at that time occupied both buildings at 51-53 Christopher Street, went out of business shortly after the uprising and was replaced by a number of eating establishments over the years. From 1987 to October 1989, a bar named Stonewall operated out of 51 Christopher Street, but when it closed the historic vertical sign attached to the building’s facade was removed. The current Stonewall bar opened in 1993 at 53 Christopher Street and has operated under the current management since 2006.)
The original Stonewall Inn was a gay bar that, like many other gay bars in the 1960s, was run by the Mafia. At 1:30 AM on Saturday, June 28, 1969, Stonewall was raided by the police. This was not an unusual occurrence. What was unusual was the reaction of the bar’s patrons and the crowd outside, which included a diverse segment of the local LGBT community as well as other residents of Greenwich Village and visitors. Instead of dispersing, the angry crowd began to fight back as bar patrons were arrested, throwing beer cans and other objects at the police who were forced back into the bar. The demonstrating continued over the next few nights outside the Stonewall, in Christopher Park, and along adjacent streets between Seventh Avenue South and Greenwich Avenue. The events on several nights were captured in the evocative images of Fred W. McDarrah, photographer for The Village Voice.
“By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was twenty-five hundred. And that was the impact of Stonewall.”
The struggle for LGBT rights did not actually begin at Stonewall, as a number of groups in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities had already been organizing and demonstrating for their equal rights. However, the Stonewall rebellion sparked the next major phase of the gay liberation movement, which involved more radical political action and assertiveness during the 1970s. Groups such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), Radicalesbians, and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) were organized within months of Stonewall. At the one-year anniversary, the first annual Christopher Street Liberation Day March (later known as the Gay Pride March and then the LGBT Pride March) took place in New York, with similar events in other cities in the United States; the number of marches expanded internationally over the next few years.
In 1989, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the uprising, the section of Christopher Street in front of the Stonewall Inn was renamed Stonewall Place. The importance of Stonewall has further been recognized with the installation of George Segal’s sculpture Gay Liberation in Christopher Park in 1992. The buildings and/or the surrounding area have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2000, a New York City Landmark in 2015, a New York State Historic Site in 2016, and a National Monument by President Barack Obama in 2016.
Today, LGBT people from around the world continue to visit Stonewall and recognize it as a major symbol of civil rights, solidarity, and remembrance. For example, on June 26, 2015, a large crowd gathered in celebration here after the United States Supreme Court declared state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional; a year later, people mourning the victims of the June 12, 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, left flowers and messages on the sidewalk in front of Stonewall.
See an in-depth history of Stonewall in the “Read More” section below.