Marsha “Pay it no mind” Johnson was a trans woman and LGBT liberation activist born in August of 1945. Marsha is widely cited as being instrumental in starting the Stonewall Riots in response to the arrest of another Black activist, Stormé DeLarverie during the raid.
Marsha P. Johnson worked tirelessly to further civil rights for the LGBTQ community, cofounding Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries* (STAR) with another POC trans woman, Sylvia Rivera. The organization worked to house homeless LGBTQ+ folks, establishing the STAR house initially as a parked truck trailer in a Greenwich Village parking lot.Eventually Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera managed to secure a building, 213 Second Ave., to act as their STAR house. Marsha, known as the house’s “Drag Mother,” worked to provide previously homeless transgender and gay youth a home, food security, and safety.
Marsha didn’t stop there though, she continued to work with other civil rights organizations, notably, working as an AIDS activist with ACT UP, as an organizer and marshal until her death in 1992.
While the official story presented by the police and medical examiner states that Marsha died of an apparent suicide, many in the community believe she was murdered.
*The term transvestite, while the original name of the group, is considered inappropriate to use today and should be avoided. The correct terminology as it is used now is “transgender”
Aila Moireach is a social justice writer and educator. You can find her on facebook, or on her blog http://ailamoireach.com.
Hey FAM! Every week day this month, we’ll be posting a brief biography on a figure in Black history.
Latasha Harlins was a 15 year old girl Black girl murdered in a convenience store in Los Angeles. Her murder, 13 days after Rodney King’s beating, and the murderer’s subsequent slap on the wrist contributed to tensions leading to the LA Riots.
Soon Ja Du, a 51 year old convenience store clerk assumed Latasha Harlins was attempting to steal a bottle of orange juice, despite Latasha having the money to pay for it in hand. Mrs Du reacted by grabbing Latasha’s sweater and backpack, and assaulting her.
Latasha fought back in an attempt to get away. As she stepped back, Mrs. Du threw a stool at her. Latasha bent over to pick up the orange juice that had fallen to the ground, when Mrs Du snatched it from her hand. As Latasha turned to leave, Mrs Du reached under the counter for her handgun and shot Latasha in the back of the head from three feet away.
Mrs. Du was arrested and claimed self-defense, however her testimony was contradicted by both eye witnesses, and the security camera.
Mrs. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the murder of Latasha Harlins, which carries a maximum sentence of 16 years. While the jury recommended the maximum, Judge Joyce Karlin claimed “mitigating factors” and sentenced Mrs. Du to five years probation, 400 hours community service, and a $500 fine. Judge Karlin is quoted as saying Did Mrs. Du react inappropriately? Absolutely. But was that reaction understandable? I think that it was….this is not a time for revenge…and no matter what sentence this court imposes Mrs. Du will be punished every day for the rest of her life.”
This sent a clear message to Los Angeles’ Black community that to the white justice system, Black lives did not matter.
Aila Moireach is a social justice writer and educator. You can find her on facebook.