Lives of activism inspire gift to MARBL

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Feb. 20, 2014

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Emory staff member and alumnus David McClurkin and his partner Ken Hunt donate materials to MARBL's LGBT collection. Emory Photo/Video.

Sometimes it's hard to tell history is being made when you're in the middle of it.

That was certainly the case for Emory graduate David McClurkin, C'74 — business development and account manager for Emory's communications and marketing division — and his partner, Ken Hunt, a longtime public health adviser at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, who share a 30-year history with gay rights/human rights activism, community organizing, and HIV/AIDS work throughout the Southeastern United States.

While browsing "Building a Movement in the Southeast: LGBT Collections in MARBL," — Emory's first exhibit from the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Books Library's collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender materials on display at the Woodruff Library through May 11 — McClurkin was struck by a deep sense of recognition:

Fliers for support groups and health campaigns … posters from gay pride marches … fledgling political magazines … personal journals, photographs and papers from prominent local activists…

Much of the exhibit reminded McClurkin of items he and Ken had collected over the years.

 "The exhibit was great, I was impressed with the breadth of it, and there was a lot of integrity in what MARBL had done with it," he says. "I liked the idea of having a place where materials like this would be safe, secure, respected, and available to the public."

He wondered: Would MARBL be interested in a donation?

Living history

To Randy Gue, curator of modern political and historical collections at MARBL, it was a welcome offer and a significant donation, "both because of the history it contains and also the Emory connection."

In recent years, MARBL has made a concerted push to grow its LGBT collection; one hope was that the current exhibit might encourage community members to look at their own lives for materials to contribute.

"That's what this collection is all about — documenting the community," he explains.

"What I have in mind is a graduate student 150 years from now who wants to look back at what the LGBT community was like in Atlanta and the South. MARBL wants to be able to show the depth and breadth of those connections."

As a public health adviser — he now serves as deputy director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's overseas offices — Hunt has an extensive history in public health issues, stretching back to the early days of HIV/AIDS.

Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Hunt remembers a society that couldn't accept gay men. After marrying in his early 20s — at the time, he saw no other option — Hunt chose to accept who he was, divorced and moved to Los Angeles as an openly gay man.

In the late 1970s, Hunt was volunteering in a gay community center health clinic "when we began to see the first cases of Kaposi's sarcoma," he reflects. "We didn't know what was going on. We didn't know there was a virus at first, so many people were sick and dying, there were no treatments and no effective testing. "

Hunt moved to Jacksonville, Fla., in 1980 and was hired by the CDC to work in public health; by 1985 that included HIV/AIDS testing and counseling — a vocation that quite literally grew up with the epidemic.

"I was the first person offering testing in Duval County," Hunt says. "When we opened the doors, one-in-five people coming in that door were HIV-positive."

McClurkin had grown up in Jacksonville. Graduating from Emory in 1974, he had worked for non-profits across the nation before returning to his hometown, where he met Hunt in 1985.

Raising human awareness

Together, they organized the Bold New City Coalition for Human Awareness, "because Jacksonville touts itself as the 'Bold New City of the South,' and I thought, 'Okay, let's see about human awareness in this bold new city,'" Hunt recalls.

The couple also worked to help incorporate AID Jacksonville, a not-for-profit inspired by AID Atlanta that focused on AIDS education, prevention and support, and to establish The Florida Task Force, a Florida equality group.

"At that point we were all helping each other, because the government and the hospital systems weren't stepping up," Hunt recalls.

In time, Hunt's work took the couple to Miami, where he became district AIDS coordinator for Dade and Monroe counties. Together, they also formed a health consulting service to provide community and workforce education around HIV/AIDS across Florida.

Activism in Atlanta

When the CDC moved Hunt to Atlanta, the couple brought with them an instinct for community activism.

McClurkin's focus shifted to Emory, where he is a member of GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association) and also served on the former President's Commission on LGBT Concerns. Today, he serves on the steering committee for the Advisory Council on Community and Diversity.

"For me, the importance of being involved in these groups is that I see Emory as having the opportunity to be a leader," McClurkin says.

"There are other universities doing some of this work, but Emory really has an outstanding record of getting things accomplished early on and maintaining the vision with generally strong support from senior administrators — that seems to be in the fabric of the community."

Together, they focused on community building, recalls McClurkin: "We started an LGBT square dance club that still exists called Hotlanta Squares."

Pieces of a shared past

And so Hunt and McClurkin have been gathering pieces of their past: protest march posters, books, pins and buttons, pamphlets and personal papers — details that underscore lives of action and activism.

Contemporary artifacts, says Gue, that not only add to the LGBT collection, but offer an important cultural touchstone.

"We literally couldn't have done the LGBT exhibit if we hadn't had so much momentum from people wanting to contribute," Gue says.

McClurkin finds it reassuring to know their donated material will be in safe storage, available to scholars and even to them, should they wish to visit. "I'll be interested to see how it intermingles with what's already there, how it all fits together," Hunt muses.

As for McClurkin and Hunt, they intend to add to their own historic timeline.

After 29 years together, they have plans to get married later this spring in Northern California, among 17 states where current laws now allow them to marry.