Sunday, August 23, 2009

Following up on the Allertons...and Bayard Rustin

Earlier this month I posted about same-sex couples who solidify a family relationship by having the older partner adopt the younger one. Among other things, I described my experience touring the Allerton Gardens in Kauai, named for Robert Allerton and his "adopted son" John Gregg Allerton, who lived there for many years.

When I wrote that post I had yet to read Lucinda Flesson's Waking Up In Eden. My good friends, who know my passion for Kauai, gave me the book because it's the memoir of a woman who leaves east coast professional life to live in Kauai and work at the Allerton Gardens.

Well it turns out that the author, Lucinda Fleeson, was also fascinated by the life of the Allertons. Several employees of the gardens knew the couple (Robert died in 1964; John in 1986), and Fleeson asked many questions about them. She also dug around in Illinois, where Robert's father made the family fortune, and learned more there. She hypothesizes that, after splitting their time between Illinois and Kauai, the couple settled in Kauai full time to escape increasing surveillance and criminalization of homosexuality.

I learned more about Robert and John Allerton from this book than from any other source I've found since I became interested in the couple more than 15 years ago. The book is a great read for anyone who loves Kauai, but it also earns a place among books about the social and cultural history of gay people in America.

And many thanks to John D'Emilio, whose biography of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award for non-fiction. John recently reminded me that Bayard Rustin adopted his partner, Walter Naegle, to safeguard Walter's ability to inherit from possible challenge by his family members.


Maxine said...

This 'adoption' thing is an absolutely fascinating concept that works around barriers to marriage laws. Though not an ideal way of formally defining each other, it shows that love will always find a way,

urbangardener said...

Thanks for the comment -- the allerton story really is fascinating... I'll be in Chicago in October talking about them at the Halstead Center -- don't know if that is anywhere near you. . .Best,
Lucinda Fleeson

LilySea said...

My partner and I got "married" (extralegally) at the Illinois Allerton garden--now owned by the university of Illinois where she works. They have lots of straight weddings there all the time. We felt it was particularly "ours" though. Very nifty.

Maureen Holtz said...

If you want to read the real truth about Robert Allerton, read the book I co-authored with Martha Burgin, "Robert Allerton: The Private Man & The Public Gifts". The Fleeson book had a number of errors in it about him.

Maureen Holtz