Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Fuss Over History

A straight friend of mine who's an archivist sent me this link to the Bay Area Reporter about the to-do that's developed over the papers of Jim Rivaldo, a gay San Francisco political consultant.

Rivaldo's first mistake was not being clearer about who should get his archives. His second mistake was dying.

Rivaldo helped elect Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1977, and he was the last person to speak to Milk before the gay icon was murdered. The progressive consultant helped other gays win office, as well as people of color.

His collection of work-related materials filled three filing cabinets and 40 boxes. An archivist's dream--or nightmare.

Forced to downsize his living space as he fought with illness, Rivaldo moved his collection to the office of fellow gay political consultant Ray Sloan. The two planned to go through all the material, Sloan says, but in October of 2007 Rivaldo died.

Superior Court Judge Ellen Chaitin, a close friend of Rivaldo's and the executor of his will, then asked for the archives. Sloan slammed the proverbial filing cabinet on her proverbial fingers.

Sloan and Chaitin both claim they want the archives housed where the public can access them. A third party tried to broker a deal, but no go.

Jim Rivaldo was a key player in the growth of gay political power in San Francisco. Three years after his death his personal materials still can't be touched, and that must be making local researchers cranky.

It's clear why this case has caught the attention of archivists around the nation. When two different people claim ownership of historically important archives, a Solomon-esque solution would be nice. Without cutting the papers in two, of course.