McCall Library Partners with Invisible History Project

Posted on April 5, 2019

Joshua Burford of the Invisible Histories Project in Birmingham, an organization preserving the history of LGBTQ life in Alabama and the Southeast, will speak at the USA Marx Library on Thursday, April 11.

The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library recently partnered with IHP, which means that any Mobile LGBTQ collections curated by the organization will be housed at the archives.

“This partnership enables us to provide more than one perspective on the subject, which really serves the broader community,” said Deborah Gurt, processing and digital archivist at the McCall Library.

Burford, director of community engagement for IHP, will lead a roundtable discussion at 11 a.m. for students to talk about the queer experience on South’s campus. The informal setting in Room 181 is designed as a chance to learn and share with each other. The event is for interested students, and seating is limited. Refreshments will be provided.

At 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the Marx Library, Burford will talk about IHP, which preserves, collects and protects the living history of the diversity of the queer community – both urban and rural. Using Alabama as a site model, IHP is currently expanding into Mississippi and Georgia with aims to reach the entire Southeast within 10 years.

Burford will also present a short documentary film, “Out in Alabama,” which focuses on Alabama communities where LGBTQ rights are embraced, despite the history of obstacles. A short “talkback” will follow.

Funding for these events came from a 2010 monetary bequest to the Friends of the McCall Library from Mark Hanrahan, whose partner of 40 years, Robert Bell, was a scholar, author and librarian. When Bell died in 1999, Hanrahan donated his papers to the McCall Library.  

Bell, a native of Tarrant, Ala., graduated from Phillips High School in Birmingham and in 1950 earned a bachelor's degree in English from Birmingham-Southern. He then attended Harvard University, where he earned a master's degree in English. Bell continued his education at Louisiana State University, and in 1955 he took a job as assistant director at the Fort Worth Public Library. While there, he published his novel, “The Butterfly Tree.” He later earned a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley School of Librarianship and published three mythology reference books. He also worked at university libraries at City College of San Francisco and the University of California at Davis.

Bell and Hanrahan owned the Banquette Book Shop in New Orleans and San Francisco from 1962 until 1971. During this time, Bell began working at the New Orleans Public Library. For a time, he was also head of adult services for the Mobile Public Library. 

Hanrahan died in October 2009. For more information on the donated materials, visit the Robert Eugene Bell Papers website of the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 

Gurt credited donor and historian Isabel Machado dos Santos Wildberger with the IHP partnership. Last year, Machado donated an oral history collection centering on experiences of members of the LGBTQ community in Mobile, specifically the Order of Osiris, Mobile’s first gay parading society. The interviews explore the changing landscape of social acceptance against the backdrop of Mardi Gras in Mobile.

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