The papers of Matthew Shepard (1976-1998) a gay man who was a victim of a hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming October 1998 resulting in his death. His death gained national and international attention leading to the formation of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and eventual passage of federal hate crime legislation (The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act), signed into law in October 2009.
Papers relating to the life of Matthew Shepard, his beating, death, and its aftermath, leading to the passage of anti-hate crime legislation named for him and James Byrd, Jr. The papers include items from Shepard's early life, his school life, elementary through college, and personal material. The collection includes material from his recycling campaign. It also includes items from theater productions in which he participated. There is correspondence both written and received as well as notebooks and his passports. Travel and general ephemera are also included.
The papers related to the aftermath of his beating and death include funeral memorabilia, programs, flower cards, and photographs of floral arrangements. The bulk of the material consists of condolence cards and letters, expressions of sympathy and condolence, and material from memorial events thoughout the United States. These include not only written correspondence, but graphic and artistic tributes (drawings, poetry, screenplays, and musical compositions.)
There are screenplays, correspondence, and photographs relating to the television motion pictures, Anatomy of a Hate Crime (2001) and The Matthew Shepard Story (2002) starring Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, and Shane Meier.
The papers have been utilized prior to their donation to the Archives, National Museum of American History by filmmaker Michele Josue and Zeina Barkawi for the award winning documentary, Matt Shepard Is A Friend of Mine (2015). The material was also researched by representatives of Ford's Theater, Washington, DC when Ford's mounted a production of Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project in 2013.
The collection is arranged in three series.
Series 1, Shepard, Matthew, Personal Papers, 1976-2018, undated
Subseries 1.1: Education and Schooling, 1981-1998, undated
Subseries 1.4: Assorted Papers and Ephemera, 1976-1999,undated
Subseries 1.5: Funeral and Celebration of Life, Estate, 1998 October-2018 October 26
Series 2, Shepard Family and The Matthew Shepard Foundation, Papers and Correspondence Received, 1998-2013, undated
Subseries 2.1: Papers, 1998-2003, undated
Subseries 2.2: Correspondence Received, 1998 October-2009 September
Series 3, Tribute, Vigil, Memorial Services, Memorabilia, and Inspired Works, 1998-2008, undated
Subseries 3.1: Tribute, Vigil, and Memorial Services, 1998, undated
Subseries 3.2: Memorabilia and Inspired Works,1973-2008, undated
Subseries 3.3: Anatomy of a Hate Crime, 1999-2001
Subseries 3.4: The Matthew Shepard Story, 1999-2004, undated
Biographical / Historical:
The life and death of Matthew Shepard have been documented in numerous biographies, motion pictures, and newsprint.
Matthew Wayne Shepard was born on December 1, 1976 in Casper, Wyoming to Judy Peck and Dennis Wayne Shepard. Shepard's early life was spent in Casper, where he attended elementary school, junior high, and high school till the tenth grade. While living in Casper, he participated in local productions at theater companies based in Casper. One of his school projects involved bringing awareness to recycling. He was so successful that he was appointed as the young adult representative to the governor's initiaive on state-wide recycling. In his junior year of high school, Shepard left Casper to attend The American School in Switzerland (TASIS). At that time his mother Judy and younger brother Logan joined Dennis Shepard in Saudi Arabia where Dennis was employed by SAUDI ARAMCO.
While attending TASIS on a school trip to Morocco Shepard was raped by one or more unknown assailants. Although the crime was reported, the perpetrators were never apprehended. This emotional and physical trauma stayed with Shepard the remainder of his life. After graduation from TASIS, Shepard briefly attended Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. After leaving Catawba he moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and then returned to Casper, where he enrolled in Casper College, the local community college. He briefly moved to Denver, Colorado, before deciding to enter the Universty of Wyoming in Laramie, his parents' alma mater. He was admitted for the 1998-1999 school year to the University of Wyoming.
It was while living in Laramie on the evening of October 6, 1998 that Shepard crossed paths with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at the Fireside Lounge. McKinney and Henderson later drove him to a location outside Laramie, where they tied Shepard to a split-rail fence, robbed, and beat him senseless with the butt of a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver. After beating him they stole his shoes and left him in the near-freezing temperatures.
Shepard was discovered 18 hours later by Aaron Kreifels. He was first transported to Ivinson Hospital in Laramie, and upon the discovery of the severity of his injuries he was transferred to the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. His parents immediately flew from Saudi Arabia and were with him when he died in the early morning hours of October 12, 1998.
McKinney and Henderson were arrested and charged. They maintained what is known as a "gay panic defense" claiming Shepard had made sexual overtures to one or both of them. This was ultimately not allowed. Henderson pleaded guilty to the charges of felony murder and kidnapping. McKinney went to trial also facing charges of felony murder and kidnapping. When found guilty, McKinney faced the possibility of the death penalty, but upon the Shepard family's request he received two consecutive life sentences, as had Henderson.
The death of Matthew on October 12, 1998 resulted in an unprecedented national and international outpouring of sympathy and reflection from the public at large. Cards, letters, and donations to what became the Matthew Shepard Foundation were received from not only the United States but the world. The response was overwhelming, many writing, "to express their concern and sorrow about what had happened to Matt and to us as his parents," in the words of Dennis Shepard. Shepard's Celebration of Life was held at the family's home church, St. Mark's Episcopal, in Casper, Wyoming. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funeral.
Over a ten-year period, Judy Shepard and the Matthew Shepard Foundation fought for national hate crime legislation. It was not until 2009 that Congress passed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, on October 22. President Barack Obama signed the act into law on October 28. The Foundation continues to this day bringing good from evil, empowering individuals, ". . . to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach, advocacy and resource programs," and, ". . . to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance."
Shepard's ashes were inurned at the Washington National Cathedral in October 2018.
Shepard, Judy. The Meaning of Matthew, My Son's Murder in Laramie and a World Transformed. New York, New York: Hudson Street Press, 2009.
Matthew Shepard Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
St. Mark's Episcopal Church website: http://stmarks.diowy.org/ accessed August 2018.
Matthew Shepard Foundation website: https://www.matthewshepard.org/ accessed August 2018.
Objects relating to Matthew Shepard are held in the Division of Medicine and Science.
Collection donated by Dennis and Judy Shepard in 2018.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Use of the materials requires an appointment. Please contact the archivist to make an appointment: ACMarchives@si.edu.
The Henry P. Whitehead collection is the physical property of the Anacostia Community Museum. Literary and copyright belong to the author/creator or their legal heirs and assigns. Rights to work produced during the normal course of Museum business resides with the Anacostia Community Museum. For further information, and to obtain permission to publish or reproduce, contact the Museum Archives.