“History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable – it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.” (*)
(Marsha P. Johnson)
Today, 30 June 2020, Google celebrates Marsha P. Johnson with a Google Doodle.
I knew nothing about her but I found out she was an African American transgender woman and revolutionary LGBTQ rights activist, whose life has been celebrated in numerous books, documentaries and films. She was even a model for Andy Warhol, attracted by her flamboyant style and personality.
She was born Malcolm Michaels Jr. but changed her name into the drag queen name “Marsha P. Johnson”. The surname was taken after the Howard Johnson’s restaurant that she often frequented and P stood for “pay it no mind”, a phrase she used sarcastically when people enquired about her gender or sexuality. Marsha was the first name she used: “Black Marsha“.
She tragically died in July 1992 at the age of 46: her body was found floating in the Hudson River.
Her death was unreported by the mainstream press and the police viewed it as a suicide, but her friends and fellow activists have always shared a disbelief toward the ruling: not only was she not suicidal, but she also had a large wound at the back of her head.
Several witnesses said they had seen Johnson harassed by a group of villains who had also robbed other people and one of them reported he had noticed a man fighting with her a couple of days before, who later had boasted at a bar that he had killed a drag queen named Marsha.
But the police did not seem interested in investigating her death: the case was just about a “gay black man”.
Twenty years later the police had to reclassify the cause of death from “suicide” to “drowning by unknown causes”. And twenty-five years later, Victoria Cruz of the Anti-Violence Project re-opened the case but no firm conclusions about her death have been reached yet.
Johnson dedicated much of her life to helping others and since her death there has been growing recognition for her invaluable contributions to the causes of social and economic justice.
(*) “La storia non è qualcosa a cui ripensi e dici che era inevitabile – succede perché le persone prendono decisioni a volte molto impulsive e del momento, ma tutti quei momenti sono realtà che si accumulano.”