KB Brother Harvey Milk
While many KB alumni went on to notable careers, Harvey Milk ’51 is the most famous. Milk, whose legal name Glimpy Milch reflected his Lithuanian Jewish heritage, was a Long Island native from Woodmere who came to college in 1947. Milk majored in mathematics, served as a sports reporter for the State College News and was active in student government.
When Milk became a member of Kappa Beta, it had been open to non-Jewish members since 1946 but was still an all-Jewish fraternity. Considering what we know now, it’s not surprising that Milk played a role in the evolution of the fraternity into a more diverse organization. In the Fall of 1949, KB brothers Milk, Don Cohen, Howie Rosman and Phil Malafsky became friendly with a freshman, Robert Barron ’52 who was not Jewish. Another KB brother, Sy Fersh ’50 who worked in a cafeteria with Barron asked him if he would accept a bid to join KB. Barron declined, believing that KB would reject him because he wasn’t Jewish. During the following Spring of 1950, Milk, Cohen, Rosman, Malafsky, Fersh and Bill Kirman ’52 (Barron’s first college roommate who had joined KB the previous semester) convinced Barron to accept a bid and he became the first non-Jewish member of the fraternity. Robert Barron became a “recruiting machine” and was credited for the large Spring ’50 and 1951 pledge classes, the majority of which were not Jewish. Kappa Beta had become more diverse, and its diversity made KB a better fraternity.
Following his graduation in 1951, Milk joined the U.S. Navy and served as a diving officer in San Diego during the Korean War. He later served on the submarine rescue ship Kittwake. In 1955, Milk, by then a lieutenant (junior grade), was forced to accept an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy rather than face court martial for his homosexuality. After his discharge, Milk returned to Long Island and worked as a teacher.
Milk moved to San Francisco in 1972. He became an icon in the gay community, encouraging LGBT citizens to live openly and achieve social equality. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, becoming the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the United States. When death threats multiplied after his election, Milk spoke often of the probability that he would be assassinated. He made a Last Will and Testament naming acceptable successors to his seat which contained the famous line, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” Milk served less than a year when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were tragically assassinated by Dan White, a homophobic former City Supervisor on November 27, 1978. To LGBT men and women around the world, Milk’s courage, passion, and sense of justice symbolized the freedom to live life with authenticity and his life remains an inspiration to all people committed to civil rights, equal opportunity and an end to bigotry. Following his assassination, Milk’s final campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg wrote, “What set Harvey apart from you and me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real for all of us”.
In 1999, Time Magazine included Milk on its list of the 20th century’s most influential people. In 2004, he was honored by the New York City School System when it opened the Harvey Milk High School, an alternative school for gay and transgender students. In 2009, President Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On November 21, 2021, U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro launched a John Lewis-class oiler, USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO-206), the first Navy ship named after an openly gay person.
For further information on Harvey Milk:
- Harvey Milk – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Milk
- The Times of Harvey Milk Documentary – Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jet-Ubwk5l8
- The Official Harvey Milk Biography – https://milkfoundation.org/about/harvey-milk-biography/
- Milk. The 2008 biopic directed by Gus Van Sant. Sean Penn won an Oscar for his leading role.