d. August 24, 1987
Bayard Rustin was the chief organizer for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Rustin's expertise in nonviolent direct action assisted King in shaping the African-American Civil Rights movement.
"We are all one. And if we don't know it, we will learn it the hard way."
Bayard Rustin was raised in West Chester, Pennsylvania by Quaker grandparents who espoused pacifism. Rustin moved to Harlem in the 1930's, the time of the Harlem Renaissance. He paid his New York City College tuition by singing with folk artist Josh White and became an organizer for the Young Communist League in their work against racial segregation.
Rustin's refusal to register for the draft in World War II resulted in his serving three years in a federal penitentiary. Although he was arrested 23 times for nonviolent protest, he never lost his conviction that equality should be pursued through nonviolent means.
In the 1940's and 1950's, Rustin organized nonviolent groups that became the foundation of the African-American Civil Rights movement, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1947, he coordinated the Journey of Reconciliation, an event that became the model for the Freedom Rides of the 1960's. In 1955, Rustin was instrumental in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
As an expert in Gandhian nonviolent tactics, Bayard Rustin fostered nonviolence in the African-American civil rights movement. When Rustin arrived in Montgomery to assist with the bus boycott, there were guns inside Martin Luther King, Jr.'s house and armed guards posted at his doors. Rustin persuaded King and the other boycott leaders to commit the movement to complete nonviolence.
A superb strategist, Bayard Rustin experienced prejudice because of his sexual orientation and his controversial political positions. He was often relegated to a behind-the-scenes role.
Shortly before he died 1987, Rustin said at a gay rights rally: "Twenty-five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, [or] lesbian."Bibliography:
- Anderson, Jervis. Bayard Rustin: Troubles I’ve Seen. Harper Collins, 1997.
- D’Emilio, John. Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin. The Free Press, 2003.
- Web Site: www.rustin.org