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James T. Sears collection

Identifier: Mss 0207

Collection Overview

This collection was artificially assembled by James T. Sears as part of his research on LGBTQ history. The collection consists of assorted ephemera, photographs, and audiovisual materials relating to LGBTQ subjects. His research materials include historical photographs of female impersonators, male impersonators, and people expressing same-sex affection. There is also printed ephemera including a brochure from New Orleans, La. advertising a “gay night life tour” and a postcard featuring female impersonators from Metairie, La. Some materials are suggestive of LGBTQ subjects due to their wording. Sears also collected items from well-known figures in the LGBTQ community, including the typescript of a poem by Allen Ginsburg (1926-1997), a small American flag belonging to openly gay former airman Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988), and the signature of Sir Edward Clarke (1841-1931), who defended Oscar Wilde in his libel case. The collection also includes two endorsements for Sears’ book, Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South (2001) from author Rita Mae Brown (1944-) and playwright Edward Albee (1928-2016). Also included are recordings by various LGBTQ singer-songwriters and performers, compilations of LGBTQ music, the audio documentary Homosexuality in the American Male, a stand-up comedy album, and, notably, a copy of You’re Stepping on My Eyelashes!, a recording by female impersonator Ray Bourbon (circa 1892-1971), also known as Rae Bourbon.


  • Creation: circa 1908-2001


Language of Material

Materials are in English

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

The nature of the College of Charleston's archival holdings means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. Special Collections claims only physical ownership of most archival materials.

The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Biographical Note

James Thomas Sears was born on August 12, 1951 in Tipton, Indiana. He graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1974 with a B.S. in history, government, and social psychology, and Indiana University with an M.S. in secondary education. In 1976, he got his M.A. in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1984, he received his Ph.D. in curriculum studies and sociology from Indiana University, Bloomington. Sears became a professor at the University of South Carolina (USC), Columbia in 1984, and continued working at USC until 2004. During his time at USC, Sears began his research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues. Several of his books focused specifically on LGBTQ life in the South, including Growing Up Gay in the South: Race, Gender, and Journeys of Spirit (1991), Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968 (1997), and Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South (2001). From 2005-2008 Sears worked as a professor at Pennsylvania State University, where he wrote Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation (2006). Sears started a real estate consulting and property management firm Sears & Partners in 2005. After leaving Penn State, Sears worked full-time at Sears & Partners as a real estate broker in the Charleston, S.C. area. During this time, Sears published Edwin and John: A Personal History of the American South (2009). This book described the lives of Edwin Peacock (1910-1989) and John Zeigler (1912-2015), a gay couple who owned the independent bookstore, the Book Basement, in Charleston, S.C. The building that housed the Book Basement is now the offices of the College of Charleston Department of Communication.


1.46 linear feet (1 slim document box, 1 oversize box, 1 oversize paper folder, 14 audiodiscs, 4 compact discs)


This collection contains assorted ephemera, photographs, and audiovisual materials documenting the research interests of James T. Sears, author of several books on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) history in the South. The collection includes materials relating to female and male impersonators and LGBTQ music. Notable items include the typescript of a poem by Allen Ginsberg, a American flag belonging to openly gay airman Leonard Matlovich, and the signature of Sir Edward Clarke, who defended Oscar Wilde during his libel case.

Collection Arrangement

  1. Research materials, 1908-2001
  2. Audiovisual materials, 1956-1999

Custodial History

James Sears donated these materials to the Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA). AFFA then donated their records, including Sears’ materials, to the College of Charleston Special Collections in 2017. Sears’ materials were separated from AFFA’s records during processing.

Acquisitions Information

Materials donated in 2017 by the Alliance for Full Acceptance.


No further accruals are expected.

Separated Material

Published books were removed from this collection and catalogued separately.

Processing Information

Processed by Rebecca Thayer, December 2018.

Inventory of the James T. Sears Collection, circa 1908-2001
Processed by: Rebecca Thayer; finding aid created by: Rebecca Thayer
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Funding from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation supported the processing of this collection and the creation of this finding aid.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Special Collections
College of Charleston Libraries
66 George Street
Charleston South Carolina 29424
(843) 953-8016
(843) 953-6319 (Fax)