I stumbled upon this, Hidden In The Open a photo essay and collection of African-American male couples throughout history going as far back as the 19th century. Trent Kelley, the collector and historian, notes that:
“Some of these images are sure to be gay and others may not. The end result is speculative at best, for want in applying a label. Not every gesture articulated between men was an indication of male to male intimacies. Assuredly, what all photographs in this book have in common though, are signs of Afro American male affection and love that were recorded for posterity without fear and shame.”
“I want the world to see the photographs. I want the black gay community to see the photographs and men in particular so they know they have a history to be proud of,” says Kelley.
Many of the photos are in black and white and as you contextualise each photo with the time and era that they were taken, you see that these men faced possible racial violence. The affection in many of the photos are subtle and even in some cases, hard to see. But Kelley notes that on the back of one photo was written “my special friend.”
The collection of photos presents a history of affectionate African-American men within the United States. And in my view, it puts paid to that vague idea that intimacy between men of African descent is non existent, was unknown or unheard of, or even that it is somehow alien.
Trent Kelley, the collector, writes:
Historically, the Afro American gay male and couple has largely been defined by everyone but themselves. Afro American gay men are ignored into non existence in parts of black culture and are basically second class citizens in gay culture. The black church which has historically played a fundamental role in protesting against civil injustices toward its parishioners has been want to deny its gay members their right to live a life free and open without prejudice. Despite public projections of a “rainbow” community living together in harmonious co-habitation, openly active and passive prejudices exist in the larger gay community against gay Afro Americans.
Pockets within Afro American culture have on occasion wanted to deny that its men could ever be gay and part of the overall African American experience. Gay was traditionally conceived as a white man’s predicament, a sexual orientation and affliction common only to him. By persistent influence to a culture not historically his own, the disparate Afro American man became gay. The prurient interest in the otherwise “straight” Afro American male by a white male effectively turns the black male gay.
Of course, this was all nonsense as Africa has a long history of homosexuality predating European incursion into the continent. Open acceptance of the gay male varied from tribal community to tribal community. The gay male often occupied an honored high place in the African tribal community. In some instances, he either publicly or privately took another male as a marital partner without prejudice from his community. Where the predominant religious influence was Islam, the construct of male affection depended on the prejudices and custom within a specific local community where in some instances a man had a wife for procreation and a socially quiet husband; the male couple was expected to be discreet about their relationship. (There is plenty more on the Flickr page)
There are quite a few photos to look on the Flickr page. The photographs are best viewed by using the slideshow function.