Editor’s Note: November is the 35th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre (Nov. 18), the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22) and the 35th anniversary of the assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone (today). This is the third in a series of three columns exploring each.
“This is Harvey Milk speaking on Friday, Nov. 18, ,” began the recording. “This is to be played only in the event of my death by assassination. … I fully realize that a person who stands for what I stand for — a gay activist — becomes the target or potential target for a person who is insecure, terrified, afraid or very disturbed themselves.”
It only took nine more days for Milk’s prophetic audio to take effect. Thirty-five years ago today, fellow supervisor, Dan White, shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and then Milk in San Francisco City Hall.
As it turned out, White’s psychological profile fit Milk’s premonition of his killer perfectly. White had quit his Board of Supervisors seat Nov. 10, 1978, but then reversed his decision four days later. He pumped four bullets into Moscone and five into Milk due to their opposition to his reinstatement. At trial, Dr. Martin Blinder was called by White’s defense to attest to his depression at the time of the murders.
Blinder used White’s increased intake of sugary foodstuffs — including Coke products and Twinkies — as mental illness symptoms; thus, forever coining the term, “the Twinkie defense.” On May 21, 1979 — the day before the late Milk’s 49th birthday — White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder and sentenced to seven years; anger over which sparked the White Night Riots.
On his fourth try, Milk became the first openly gay man to assume public office in the country’s history Jan. 8, 1978. Besides being a historical figure, Milk was also a person, and an imperfect one at that. He engaged in romantic relationships with people like 16-year-old John Galen McKinley.