The Voice of Harvey Milk

BY Arts Desk  December 19, 2008 at 1:17 PM EST

The “Hope Speech” became Harvey Milk’s stump speech. He gave a skeletal version when he declared his candidacy in 1977 and an expanded version in 1978 for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, later known as the Gay Pride Parade. For that parade, Milk commissioned his friend Gilbert Baker to come up with a logo; Baker created the gay pride Rainbow Flag, which first waved at that parade. Chicago native and science fiction writer Frank Robinson, also Milk’s speechwriter and a close adviser, helped pen the “Hope Speech.”

In the speech, Milk references adversaries Anita Bryant and California legislator John Briggs, who campaigned nationally against gay rights. Addressing gay youths across the United States afraid to come out, Milk cites his own election as a gay politician in San Francisco as a testament of hope. For those youths contemplating suicide or staying in the closet, there were two new options, Milk said: “Go to California, or stay … and fight.”

On Nov. 18, 1978, Milk recorded an audio tape at his camera store to be played in the event of his assassination. Nine days later, his fears were realized when he was shot five times by Dan White, a former city supervisor who had recently resigned. White hoped to rescind his resignation and believed Milk to be a threat to that end. In the tape, Milk acknowledges that a gay activist is a target but believed it important to state his thoughts, memories and motivations in the event of his assassination. Milk mentions Mayor George Moscone, who would have been in charge of nominating Milk’s successor, and puts forth Robinson as an option. White, however, assassinated Moscone minutes before killing Milk.

Later Friday, we will post Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Milk’s associate and friend Cleve Jones. Jones spoke to Jeffrey Brown via cell phone from California. In the film, “Milk,” Jones is played by actor Emile Hirsch.