Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Arnie Zane and Gay Identity

BOND: Besides romantic, what did the relationship mean to you?

JONES: Oh, a big question. Well, what did the relationship mean to you? Now, I'm going to jump here. A few years ago the Smithsonian did a dinner with civil rights leaders talking about the legacy of the civil rights movement and I could kick myself to this day because I sat there and waited for everybody — Dorothy Height was the only one, Mrs. Height, was the only one that actually mentioned the gay. One of the legacies of the civil rights struggle was the gay liberation movement. I remember being a member at the University, being a member of the Third World Corridor. This is something that the black students in response to what had happened in Ithaca a year or so before, black students demanded —

BOND: At Cornell.

JONES: Cornell. They demanded they have their own living facilities that were going to represent their demographic, black and Hispanic kids wanted to live together in their own dorm. When I come with my experience of being from upstate New York in this German Italian community, I wanted authenticity and so I insisted that I live there as well but I wanted to do it on my terms so I was seeing young white women at that time and then lo and behold, the smoke clears and there is this young white man and there was a in one of the weekly dances in the black dorms, there was a dance and I went to the dance. My music was different than that. I was listening to Al Green at that time. I love him but I wasn't — I was listening to Jimi Hendrix, but Arnie Zane and I went and, now, was this a political statement. There came the slow dance. The slow dance and the whole room, you know how folks — So, I took him by the hand and we went on the floor. You could literally hear the gasps. Now, what did it mean? What did that gesture mean? Why were you — As my detractors have said, why were you rubbing our face in it? I didn't know I was running their face in it. I thought, hey, free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last.

Cuts all sorts of directions, plus you were not your body. You were not your parents' chains. The future is yours. And what could be — And there's only one great common denominator in all of humanity and that is the capacity to love and if this is true, it did not matter who was doing it. This is all the — It sounds pretty good in the mouth of a 60-year-old man, but at that time, it was sort of in the background noise that the culture, everything you and I have been talking about had given me this moment and so we danced together and the world changed. Suddenly, you were out and not only were you queer, faggot, whatever, but you're also with white boys, so what did that relationship mean? That's where it started.

Now, after that, it was, no, this is not, as Toni Morrison said to me, in America there's a lot of what we call sexuality is actually kind of acting out. There was maybe some of that, but immediately we knew what the deal was. You have a partner. His parents had been together, at the time of his father's death, over 40 years. My mother and father died — My father died when my mother and he had been together at least 40-some years. We knew couples and we thought that was ours as well and we went for it and that's because of him, a homemaker. For an effeminate man, he was extremely macho. He knew where his home was, this, this and this, and he wanted, and I was part of that. We began to build a life together. We always insisted that we never hide who we were.

Now, that was tough going into black situations, into my family. It was also very difficult getting invited to Passover dinner at his house. We caused literally a fight in the streets of Maspeth, Queens. They took us to the police station. Oh, we knew this was not neutral. This was not just Romeo and Juliet, no, no, no. You knew every time you walked down the street together, every time you applied for an apartment, every time you'd go into a restaurant, there was an negotiation happening and you had to oftentimes stare somebody down, but what gave us the strength to do it? I don't know. Was it the times? "You got a revolution, want a revolution"-- what is that? The Jefferson Airplane? Revolution. It's easy to sing about it but we knew what it felt like.