Today, a story of love and civil rights in Charleston. Don't get bored ... there are a lot of twists in this tale.
Our subject was born - most likely in 1922 in Sussex in England. He later in life claimed 1937. This is not as much a leap as the other changes that took place in Gordon Langley's life.
Understand that much of Gordon's life is shrouded in mystery, purposefully by some in Charleston, for reasons you will soon learn. Thus, historians differ on certain details. The main points, however, are fairly agreed upon and we will attempt for the most part to stick to those.
Gordon came to North America at the age of 16. When he came to America, he met and charmed several older women. One of these was Isabel Whitney (of the Whitney Museum Whitneys), and he was a major beneficiary of her will when she died in 1962.
Now with quite a sum of money, Gordon came to Charleston and settled in an area where mostly gay men were known to live. This did not cause a stir among the Charleston Elite. He was writer by this time and was quite eccentric, trying to rent a drinking club for a debutante ball .... for two of his dogs.
Gordon eventually fell in love with a mechanic named John Paul Simmons. John Paul, however, was not gay. Oh, he TRIED to be, but it just wasn't happening. So Gordon began to dress in drag for him. Eventually, Gordon disappeared - taking a trip to Johns Hopkins University Hospital it seems for a somewhat new surgical procedure. When Gordon resurfaced in Charleston, he ... or rather SHE ... was now Dawn.
Dawn hired John Paul Simmons as her butler, because they could not get married. And do you know WHY they could not get married? It had nothing to do with Dawn having once been a man. You see, until 1967 it was illegal for a white person to marry a black person, and John Paul Simmons was black.
They joined the fight for civil rights, and in 1967 a famous case in Virginia went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled that these laws were unconstitutional. (For the record, South Carolina kept the law in the books until 1998, but they could not apply it because of the Federal Law.) In 1968, Dawn Langley became Dawn Langley Simmons.
Now - the Charleston Elite were ok with eccentric Mr. Gordon Langley being gay and trying to have debutante balls for his dogs. They were ok when he was seen around town dressed as a woman. They were even ok when he resurfaced as a she. BUT, when Dawn married a black man, THAT'S when Charleston went ballistic. The wedding announcement was in print barely large enough to read, and found in the obituary section of the newspaper.
So - the first interracial marriage in South Carolina was between a black man who was a mechanic-turned- butler, and a rich white woman who used to be a poor white man.
And that is one of the many reasons Charleston is so interesting.
Special thanks for the history from historian and Tour Guide (Wicked Charleston Tour) Mark R. Jones. Some extra research was from: http://strangeflowers.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/dixi… and from http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_mar14.htm