Updated: Jun 5
The organization we know as African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change (AALUSC) began 49 years ago when Rev. Delores Jackson and 2 other black lesbians appeared on a cable access show demanding the time is now! if you are black and lesbian come down to meeting on Thursday Nov. 19th. Personally I have always loved hearing the memories of anyone who witnessed that cable access moment, and when folks gathered that Thursday it was the beginning of a cultural legacy that will have spanned 5 decades next year
I had the opportunity of being a board member for AALUSC (1998 - 2004). One Thursday after a meeting in 2000 I sat down and interviewed Candice Boyce, a Taurus/Gemini cusp and leader who shepherded the organization for over 25 years. What she shared with me that day always comes back to me every PRIDE month, helping me to remember why we all work to struggle across our differences to achieve a greater liberation for all. Reflecting on the herstory of AALUSC and the ebb and flow of the arc of human liberation here is a transcript of our interview:
SALSA SOUL SISTERS
“Salsa Soul started November 19th 1974. I heard about it cause one of my friends - I was always preaching and talking - she said you know a group just started and you need to go down there so you can have someplace to talk about your gayness. Just like that! And I was like maybe I will. I was in the Bronx then and I was with the Panther party and I was really sick of it and I needed a place that speaks to me. I was trying to get the lesbians in the Bronx to start a little group but of course they weren't, so they sent me downtown.
I think I came that week that they started and it was like 6 of them in the room maybe more. I remember Cassandra because she was a cutie, Sonya and Harriet because; Harriet's a hugger, Sharon and others
I came in, at first I was very quite, I know that’s hard to believe I had never been in a room of women like that before, all these women who knew who they were and not hiding it. These were people who were out there doing activist work and I had never been in a group of them so I was in awe of them.
The first year I just sort of came every Thurs, and stood around, I used to write a lot then. We used to sit in a circle and we didn't have any agenda, you know anything anyone wanted to talk about, almost like a little coffee clutch. And if you came in and said my girlfriend got on my nerves last night that was the topic. There were 2 committee's one did the meetings the other was more political because we were really in a political time.
Delores (Rev. Delores Jackson) was the seed in the idea but Delores never stayed she just said you girls need to get together and pull a group together to maybe Harriet or Luivina or somebody. They pulled it together and Delores got the connections - she got them in the church on 13th street so they had someplace to meet and she was about her business. You know how some people come along and said “you know yall need to do this!” and then they go about their business because she was very busy in MCC.
So Delores’s job was just to put the seed there. Everybody was complaining about the white organizations that came out of Stonewall. Because we weren't being heard, it wasn't about us or our issues. People were talking and I guess she just said I'm tired of yall talking you can start your own group. She is the seed and that's why I think she needs to be respected, because maybe we wouldn't have thought about it for years.
We had no idea what we were doing, where we were going and what it was gonna look like, we didn't even know the name. When we were talking about names we were talking about all kinds of wimmin's names, feminist names, African names, but when Daisy came along that’s when Salsa Soul happened. Because salsa was a very important part of Latina culture
Then it got longer then it was Salsa Soul Sisters, and then it was Salsa Soul Sisters Third World wimmin's Inc. Then we moved, we didn't stay long, only a couple of months at the Church (on 13th Street & 7th Ave). We moved to the church on West 4th Street by Washington Square Park and we stayed there for many years
At that time it was the hub, where most gay people were. All the bars, spaces, and NYU were on that side by Washington Square. So we wanted to be on the side of the street where we thought we were safer. That was the gay meeting spot, but that changed as well. It got very dangerous in the park for lesbians at one time.
That’s were the group grew, in terms of we realized we need structure. In just a years times we were something like 60 strong. In two years time we were 200 strong. And that's because there was nothing else. Now we have choices, then there was nothing else. There was no community center, there was only the white organizations or us if your were a black lesbian, or bisexual or anything else you came to this organization.
What we brought to the organization as black womyn was a cultural renaissance, because we were all into nationalism at the time in our society. So people brought in their revolutionary stuff, their art, and their culture and the whole nationalist movement involved in lesbianism there. People in African garb with their heads wrapped and locks and more. Lesbians could express themselves in this room and they found a place where they could be.
Many womyn in that room that were in the closet. One thing that changed in the make up of the organization again happened when we decided to put "lesbian" in our name. At the time we thought politically that was the most important thing we could do. But then some womyn wouldn't come or didn't want to come. And when we moved to the Lesbian and Gay Community Center (where just walking in the building you carried the stigma of being identified as different) there were people who you might think if you saw them in action that they could come and attend but they couldn't because they still weren't to their mothers, their family, their jobs.
We moved to the Center in 1985. Richard (the Executive Director of the Center at the time) tells this joke - because usually groups send one representative saying we want space. We came seven strong saying we want space. We knew it was going to affect the organization. Because this wasn't the church anymore where you could come through the door and be anybody when you walked in, Be lesbian while inside and then be anybody when you walked out. You walk through these doors people will know you're going into the lesbian and gay community services center. That was an important move, but it was also important that we didn't stay stagnant or we didn't go backwards. We could've gotten a new space or we could go into the community and at the time we felt it was safer to go into the community it would be safe for our womyn.
We got the Sandy Morris room and we met there for a long time, until we moved to the coffeehouse then we kinda started to like the ambiance of the coffeehouse. So we've been in the center for a long time.
The hope has always been that we would have our own space, but in most of the groups that went and got their own space right off the back without backing, money, grants, or whoever was gonna pay for that space broke up. What it took to keep the space broke the group up in terms of whose trying to get the money, resentfulness, getting thrown out. We took the safe way but the way that kept the group together. I learned from the people before me and I teach people that the most important thing is the group not the individual but the group.
Our hay day was on West 4th Street though. Because womyn who didn't want lesbian in the name came and on any night all outside could be womyn, and when we came here we lost a good amount of womyn because the group was taking a different stand by saying we're part of this lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two spirit community and we can't not be.
We also began to talk about a name change around 1985. Because the Salsa of Salsa Soul had formed Las Buenas Amigas and the name Salsa soul doesn't say anything about being a lesbian. We said we've got to be who we are… Who comes to this group? It started out with so many name changes; African American, African American Wimmin, then African Ancestral came but they still weren't ready for lesbian in the name. Then finally the last board person who was against name change left and once they left the board was just Me and Jean Wimberly and we added "lesbian" and that was about 1989 - 90.
We had great boards, but eventually I was doing the organization by myself, and I was holding on by my fingertips. Then I came to a center orientation and met Kim Ford (Capricorn) and Keisha Bell and that was the beginning of another era of the group.
A whole new group started to come and started to build up. Shari was involved in that and Gleesa and a whole group of them, I think the group the really started to build again. This is a group that does that, it goes zing and then a new generation comes along and grows again. It's an alternative to the bar and it's a space where people should grow and move on, the people who stay are people who are activists so they're here for a different reason. The ones who stay are here to see that everybody gets a chance to be in a space that identifies them. And they should come to the organization, grow and move on. What we do is support you, we build people so that you go out and do what ever it is in life you need to do sure of who you are. That's the whole idea of the organization to me so I don't fret when there's a little people or a lot of people because it means that group has moved on and another group of people will be funneling through with the same issues again.
CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION MARCH TO HERITAGE OF PRIDE
The Marches at first were really fun, they were like parades and some of us would party then go straight to the march then party again. But the year that Anita Bryant started her campaign, that was the 3rd year of the march. The year she started her stuff the march changed forever more and it was no longer a parade. Anita Bryant will never know what she did for this community. That march came out of stonewall, so we had a reason to celebrate. We had beat the police and won. These are the police who dragged us off to jail, beat us up, extorted money out of the clubs and out of people. And finally the police were beat and we had won. The police were locked in the club and we were outside screaming and hollering, so we marched that year on the anniversary. Then Anita Bryant said This is not over. But we saw our numbers because what happened had spread across the country. We will not drink Tropicana and they never knew our power. It was the first time in this country, this society knew how many of us there are because Tropicana stock went down and they loss so much money and no one brought Tropicana. Tropicana could not believe it, it got so bad that they fired her (Anita Bryant), and we had a real victory an economic victory across the country. And so at that parade we marched with everyone in a group format. And that was beginning of the feeling that this was a march for our lives and that we can win this! We just have to find out how to fight it. After that I remember the Pride March getting bigger.
I remember one year that might have been the 10th year, they actually had the names of the groups down 5th Ave on the lampposts. Every block would have a different name of an organization on it just to show how many organizations there were, so the politicians and government had to start paying attention to us. Now I think I march is taken for granted. But I always remind people this is not a parade it's a March. This is a march for our lives and until we are legal citizens of this country who are not battered and abused who are allowed to marry and love and be left alone we need to march and always let them see our numbers.
I think the only time we ever had a float is when Gleesa built our float. But I prefer people to march, I think that if we got caught up in music and sound it would be a parade. Marching says something powerful, that's why people yell and scream when they see us, because that we're walking for our lives and we're walking for your lives, you who can not come off that sidewalk.
Our first banner was purple with orange letters, but our current banner is about 10 years old. We had changed our name to African American then African Ancestral Wimmin and Emily who was a designer, offered to make us a banner. We kept bothering her asking what's it going to look like. We didn't even have the women on our logo yet, it was just the pyramid. Emily kept saying "leave me alone I'm an artist" and when she brought that banner in people were clapping, jumping and hugging her because we love that woman with her arrogant attitude on our banner. It just came out of her mind. Just somebody out of the goodness of her heart, that was her contribution
Women who have left impressions.
The foremothers of our group are Luivina who has passed over. She was a stalwart type woman, no nonsense human being. She was a Capricorn, but then I always could always get to her. I just play with her or hug her and she would just fall apart.
Maua (Scorpio) she was a natural leader in the sense that if you came in there and you had something on your mind she would know it. And she would wait until she got a chance and ease up to you and say hello what's happening, she was that quite kind of leader that didn't
A lot of the outside stuff and I learned a lot from Maua because you do it person by person.
Harriet, there are no words for the kind of stuff she gave to the group we used to call her El Presidente. But Harriet also was… in a room full of womyn how do you call one womyn the mother, but Harriet was the mother of the group she had that Cancer way was she loved you and hugged you. One of the things that I really learned from Harriet, because I came out real cynical from the Panther party was that every one is wonderful and beautiful and right until you know differently.
Cassandra was the mind, very fast Gemini very mental and a no nonsense person, we would have had so many our record books, archives and stuff if it wasn't for Cassandra because her theory was write things down, write things down, write things down! Otherwise we would have lost so much stuff
Sonja was our Public Relations person. Sonja's job was to go in every bar and every where and tell them about the organization. She would come in with droves of women every Thursday, because she had that energy. People like that personal touch and every Thursday she would go talk to people and give them information that's how we were so big. That became the missing part when she wen to California because no one had that energy.
Then there was Audre Lorde, women loved Audre, when Audre came in the room everyone stopped and Audre loved to flirt. She came as an artist so she didn't really some for the political stuff, she was political in her artistry but when she came to our group she came to relax and be around the women.
And Sapphire. She was much younger than them but she was among that group because they were all in the Art world. Salsa was a haven for Sapphire, her way of getting away from the world.
Of course also Dr. Marjoie Hill, who was a baby when she walked the room and you knew that Marjorie Hill was going to be somebody, She carried that with her. A Leo head in the air and she moved through the group very quickly, she wasn't content to just come to the meetings she was interested in the board in the first year and served a couple a terms
Jean had a van we called "foxy lady" and at the time when people didn't have transportation Jean would come bring them to the group, Jean would move lesbians when they were looking for someone to help them move and not some man who would cheat them. Jean and that van did a lot of things camping trips etc. The van she named "foxy lady", but we used to call Jean "foxy lady" and she is very good at one on one with women.
Daisy helped build the group she was THE Salsa in the Soul. Daisy always did a lot of work around labor issues and she brought that consciousness to the group. Most of us were working people but the politics were new to us and she taught us the concerns that surround the politics of labor.
Imani and Maua were the older girls we looked up to them. Imani would bring us culture because she was in the Yorba religion. She brought Kwanzaa to Salsa Soul. And we used to spend 7 nights at a different person's house every night. If you were to look at all of them as parents Imani was the fun parent. The get in trouble with you parent.
Everybody in was invested you see, and they left something behind, they leave a contribution
When Maua died, we did a memorial and sent the word out. It brought out all the old timers because everybody loved Maua. And we all got back together me, Cassandra, Harriet and others meeting among ourselves saying it's so good to see you and it's good to be back. Then Imani came and said we should start a meeting Maua's name. We struggled with that and said no because it will make it separate from the group it should be a part of the group and that's how the Over 40's group started. It's actually a celebration of her life, because all of us were her protégé's. To know that this woman brought us all back together by passing on was an amazing thing.