Eye-opening and often shocking, this memoir details the author’s efforts to reverse the erasure and minimization of the history of LGBTQ Americans and to begin to fully represent the history of all Americans. 


Archive Activism: The Memoir of a “Uniquely Nasty” Journey

Charles Francis 

University of North Texas Press

September 27, 2023 

ISBN-13: 978-1574419085; 288 pages 


Archive Activism: The Memoir of a “Uniquely Nasty” Journey by Charles Francis is eye-opening, thought-provoking, agonizing, and as riveting as a top-shelf mystery—but it is also a call to action. To readers not part of the LGBTQ community, his story will be revelatory and scandalous, not for salacious content, but for the realization that American leaders, past and present, actively and consciously participated in destroying the careers and lives of thousands of US citizens and then deliberately covered up their actions. 


Mr. Francis tells a compelling story with the skill of a master storyteller. Beginning with his protected and privileged childhood in post-World War II Dallas, Texas, the author reveals his personal story: his roots, his education, the foundations of his lifelong connections to the famous movers and shakers in Texas, and, ultimately, his eventual foray into national politics. If the author had stopped there, his story would already be absolutely fascinating; however, his frustrating and appalling discoveries of massive holes in the official government archives of critical LGBTQ events and history kick off a riveting mystery of epic proportions. His writing is smooth, eye-catching, and evocative, with some of the most charming and apt descriptions. When discussing his work with and for David Rockefeller, Francis describes himself as “punching so far above my weight.” When talking about public affairs consulting, he tells the story of an anxious job-seeking geography teacher: “I can teach it flat. I can teach it round.” However, the meat of the book is the heart-wrenching and gutting story of gay invisibility, persecution, and erasure, and the efforts by the author and his colleagues to rescue and bring their full story and experiences into its proper place in the history of this country. The author traces the history of the United States’ views and treatment of LGBTQ people, individually and as a group, respectfully aligning it with the struggles of African Americans.  


A major focus of the narrative is bringing to light the history and impact of the official, though publicly unacknowledged, policies of the federal government on the employment of LGBTQ individuals in civilian positions and the military. Thousands of careers and lives have been destroyed, and individuals unwillingly outed to an unaccepting society during the purge of US government services of anyone identified as homosexual. Yet the National Archives appeared to contain nothing to support the devastating decades-long practice. The proof documents were eventually discovered through the uncanny intuition and determination of a dedicated archives librarian, hidden in plain sight, their subject matter obfuscated by the massive volume of materials and the considered use of unremarkable and unhelpful keywords in the filing systems. The documents were there, buried en masse and anonymously, much like the ark of the covenant at the conclusion of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. The author provides the contents of two particularly heinous official memoranda, one the source of the book’s subtitle, “uniquely nasty” and the other, a document known as the “Revulsion” letter, both of which were uncovered as part of the treasure trove of personal papers retained by early LGBTQ activist, Frank Kameny, the entirety of which were successfully incorporated into the Library of Congress. The book provides multiple historical revelations that prove the author’s point of archive laundering and the need to rescue and salvage the stories of our disappearing elders by their very status as revelatory. 


ARCHIVE ACTIVISM: THE MEMOIR OF A “UNIQUELY NASTY” JOURNEY is a mesmerizing memoir and should interest readers of memoirs and history, especially those interested in LGBTQ Americans’ experiences. 


Charles Francis  was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. In 2011, he co-founded a repurposed Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, a history society with an edge to advocate for full LGBTQ civil equality. Francis is a retired public affairs consultant who has worked for the largest public affairs firms and their corporate clients worldwide. He and his family live in Washington, DC, and Homer, Alaska. Click here to watch an interview with Charles Francis on C-SPAN's American History TV.