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MABEL HAMPTON

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Birth Date: 1902
Birth Place: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Passed Away: 1989

Honored By

Donor names:   Joan Nestle
Date submitted: May 12, 2008
Gift: Brick Paver - small
Location on plaza map: B4
Areas of Achievement: Activism, Arts, Community Building, Domestic Work
 
Mabel Hampton was a performer, a domestic worker, an activist for African-American and gay civil rights. Orphaned as a baby in her birth place of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at age 7, Ms. Hampton was singing for pennies thrown from Greenwich Village windows in New York City, when she decided to run away from her abusive uncle. Using the nickel a kind woman gave her, she took the subway to its last stop in New Jersey and there was taken in by the White family. Never looking back, Ms. Hampton created herself. In the 1920s, a job singing and dancing in an all women show at Coney Island led to star turns in all-Black productions at the Garden of Joy and the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. There she moved “in the life” meeting other lesbian and bisexual Harlem Renaissance entertainers like Gladys Bentley, Alberta Hunter, Moms Mabley and Ethel Waters, frequenting the anything-goes salons of A’lelia Walker. In 1932, Ms. Hampton met Lillian Foster (1906-1978), a dry cleaning presser originally from Norfolk, VA, and they remained partners until Ms. Foster’s death. Hampton worked as a matron in hospitals and as a domestic worker for much of her life; always part of a vibrant gay Black community, in the 70s and 80s, she involved herself in the Gay Liberation Movement, an inspiring elder who answered the often asked question, Ms. Hampton, when did you come out?” with “What do you mean, come out – I was never in!” In 1984, she spoke at the New York City Pride Rally: “I Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian my whole life, for 82 years, and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my Black people.” Ms. Hampton can be seen in the films, “Silent Pioneers” (1984) and “Before Stonewall” (1985). Ms. Hampton was the best of friends.