Little Bits of History

No Twinkies

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2013
Harvey Milk and George Moscone

Harvey Milk and George Moscone

November 27, 1978: Two San Francisco politicians are assassinated at City Hall. George Moscone was the 37th Mayor of San Francisco. He was a lawyer and a Democrat who had served in the California State Senate from 1967-1976 when he became mayor. Before sitting in the Senate, Moscone was a Member of the San Francisco board of Supervisors where he was known for his defense of minorities, the poor, and small business owners. The three way race for mayor was close with Moscone beating John Barbagelata and Dianne Feinstein. Moscone and other progressive candidates were now in several powerful positions in San Francisco.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office in California. The New York native finally settled in San Francisco after several interim moves. He was elected as Member of the Board of Supervisors and began his term on January 8, 1978. His short time in office was marked by the passage of gay rights ordinances for the city. Peter Novak of the University of San Francisco has called Milk “a martyr for gay rights.” Miami had passed an ordinance making discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. The law was repealed and gay rights took a step backwards. Milk fought to make sexual orientation a protected issue.

Dan White was elected at the same time as Milk. The San Francisco native was also on the Board of Supervisors. The Vietnam veteran worked as a police officer and firefighter before being elected to the Board. He quit on November 10, 1978. He said he could not raise a family on the low pay ($9,600) and was disgusted by the corruption of the inner circle of San Francisco politics. On November 14 he wanted to “un-quit” and Moscone was initially willing to allow him back. White snuck into City Hall with a loaded gun and begged the mayor for his job back. When denied, he killed Moscone and then went to Milk’s office and shot him five times.

White went to his old police station and turned himself in. He was brought to trial on first degree murder charges. He was eligible for the death penalty. The media alluded to his habit of eating junk food and thus the “Twinkie defense” was born. This is inaccurate. The defense based their case on White’s depression which led to diminished capacity. They claimed he could not have premeditated his crime, so he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was paroled from prison in 1984. He confessed to the premeditation of his original crime and volunteered he had planned to kill two more people besides. He committed suicide on October 21, 1985.

“All over the country, they’re reading about me, and the story doesn’t center on me being gay. It’s just about a gay person who is doing his job.”

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

“It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.”

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” – all from Harvey Milk

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Harvey Milk was born in Woodmere, New York in 1930. He was not politically motivated until he reached his 40s. He joined the gay men’s migration to San Francisco in 1972 and settled in the Castro District. He entered into the political arena by using both the economic and political power of his neighborhood. He ran unsuccessfully for office three times. He was able to build coalitions and helped unite the voters. As the political climate of San Francisco changed over the years, his bid for office became viable and he was finally able to be elected in 1977. Although he only served for eleven months, he became an icon for the San Francisco political machine and a martyr for the gay rights movement. He was said to be a visionary and worked diligently for a bias free society. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Also on this day: First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II calls for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – In 1839, the American Statistical Association was formed.
Hung – In 1835, the last executions for homosexuality in England took place at Newgate Prison.

One Response

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  1. Sherry said, on November 29, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Obviously, Dan White was a very troubled man who may have suffered from more than just one mental illness. As far as I know, severe depression is NOT an illness that leads one to harm others very often. Suicide – which White committed later – is much more common.
    Having said that, White knew that killing Moscone & Milk was legally and morally wrong. Additionally, the crimes were premeditated. White’s prison sentence was, therefor laughable, given that he slaughtered two people in cold blood. It seems to me that if White had served a more appropriate sentence, he might have comes to terms with himself – and not felt compelled to end his own life after being released from prison.

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