“A Devastating Truth”
Guest Writer: Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley
History’s gatekeepers often write it, omitting crucial characters and events. While they shine a more positive light on the misinformation, this does history an egregious disservice.
The history of AIDS–particularly in the United States–is no different. A case in point is the ethnicity of the individual suggested to represent the earliest case of HIV/AIDS in North America: Robert Rayford, a young African American teenager from St. Louis, Missouri, in 1969.
Robert Rayford’s true story may never be told, although it has possibly been lived by countless African American teens and men. Rayford was born in 1953 and lived in a single-parent home with an older brother. His mother did the best she could to take care of her sons.
Rayford was 15 years old when he checked himself into the St. Louis hospital. Perhaps knowing that he’d have to divulge more information about himself than the culture of the time would allow him to permit, Rayford was not the most communicative with doctors about how he may have become ill. He admitted to the following: having heterosexual sex, having had no blood transfusions, being from St. Louis, and not having ever been out of the country.
However, Rayford suffering from Kaposi`s sarcoma of the anus and rectum pointed to his having had homosexual relations. Quite rare in humans at that time, Kaposi’s is a type of cancer that forms in the lining of the blood and lymph vessels. As well, it was speculated that the teenager had been a prostitute.
That affliction produced shame and stigma, which in turn caused Rayford to keep silent about the types of sexual activity he engaged in. During the 80s, we all know how AIDS fueled the insidious, rampant, and devastating stigma surrounding it.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the renowned immunologist and AIDS expert who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), weighed in on Rayford representing the earliest case of HIV/AIDS in North America. The doctor stated that the inferior state of antibody tests at the time makes the Rayford case both “fascinating and frustrating. It certainly could be true, and may even be likely that it’s true. But the absolute nailed-down proof isn’t there.”
Sixteen years after his death in 1969, Rayford tested positive for nine distinct HIV proteins. However, American history has told us that AIDS was a Caucasian gay male’s disease and brought to the U.S. by Gaëtan Dugas, a Canadian flight attendant. Actually, though, Black American gay men were there at the beginning as well. In the PBS Frontline documentary “Endgame,” Dr. Michael Gottlieb of the University of California states, “the first five patients were White, and the next two were Black, but in their (medical) reports, nothing was said about race.”
It is clear to see that there is an unwillingness to acknowledge the original location where AIDS first occurred in the United States–as well as the ethnicity of the first infected individual. Additionally, how Rayford contracted the virus that led to his demise hasn’t been pinpointed. There is much speculation, though: the adolescent’s grandfather might have infected him through alleged sexual activity. And supposedly, the grandfather died of AIDS-related symptoms.
So, here’s the bottom line: Robert Rayford, a young African American teenager, tested positive for nine distinct HIV proteins 16 years after his death– whether Dr. Fauci, the “current gatekeeper,” wants to recognize that or not. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to call their findings in New York and the West Coast “AIDS” (after much fumbling around with the title of the disease and who would get credit for that title) in the mid to late 80s, the viral disease was acknowledged primarily in White American gay men. However, Black American gay men also were sufferers at the beginning of the epidemic.
Although Rayford’s tissue samples were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, his short life and its impact have reverberated through history.
And once again:
We were there first, we’re present now, and will always be…
Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley is an author, writer, singer/songwriter, and bishop from Waterloo, Iowa. He received his master’s degree in business from the International Business Management Institute based in Berlin, Germany.
Currently residing in Atlanta, Mr. Shirley is a bishop of National and International Social Action, part of New Direction Overcomers’ International Fellowship (based in Richmond, Virginia).
A multi-faceted talent, Hartsel is a writer, author, and singer/songwriter. A bronze prize winner of the International Society of Poets, he has penned editorials for the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier. His best-selling novel is entitled Three Words, Four Letters, published by Ishai Books. Additionally, Hartsel has charted at #1 several times on the ReverbNation pop music charts.
Inspired by Langston Hughes, Bishop Shirley states, “I write what moves me. There is nothing I can’t write. I just have to care about it so I can write truthfully.”
According to Hartsel, his current book, The Night Eddie Sallis Died, is based on factual information he uncovered in 2002 about a 1966 jail cell “suicide” in Waterloo, Iowa (his place of birth). This revealing and riveting book pulls back the curtain on racism and police brutality. The author emphasizes, “These truths make Iowa a state not to be taken lightly–nor forget.”
Hartsel’s upcoming works include Three Words and Four Letters–the second and third installments of his first novel–along with his third music project, Rebel with A Cause.
Bishop Shirley can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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