Activist Adds His Voice to Atlanta History

Jesse Peel moved to Atlanta in 1976 and opened a psychiatry practice that came to serve mostly gay men looking for an empathetic ear.

As the 1980s unfolded, many of his clients and friends started dying of a new disease that eventually became known as AIDS. Peel became one of the founding members of several activist groups, including AID Atlanta and Positive Impact, a mental health program.

Now retired, Peel recently donated his papers to Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). The collection includes journals, appointment books, subject files, and correspondence.

“I was impressed by MARBL’s dedication to preserving Atlanta’s history and its desire to include gay and lesbian history,” Peel says. “I wanted to be a part of it.”

“Atlanta had a unique, grassroots response to the AIDS crisis,” says Randy Gue, MARBL’s curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections. “People responded in the only way they knew how. Jesse served on boards and raised funds for just about every important AIDS service organization in the city.”

Among the most moving pieces of the collection are the appointment books Peel kept over the years, with the names of his clients and friends who died of AIDS; funeral programs had been tucked inside. “They’re a pretty powerful testament,” Gue says, “when you turn page after page.”

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