Bayard Rustin: Wikis


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Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin at news briefing on the Civil Rights March on Washington, August 27, 1963
Date of birth: March 17, 1912(1912-03-17)
Place of birth: West Chester, Pennsylvania
Date of death: August 24, 1987 (aged 75)
Movement: African-American Civil Rights Movement, Peace Movement, Gay Rights Movement
Major organizations: Fellowship of Reconciliation, Congress of Racial Equality, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Religion: Quaker
Influences W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, A. J. Muste, A. Philip Randolph, James L. Farmer, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi
Influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was an American civil rights activist, important largely behind the scenes in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and earlier, and the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[1] He counseled Martin Luther King, Jr. on the techniques of nonviolent resistance. He became an advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes in the latter part of his career; however, his homosexuality was the basis for attacks from government officials and agencies as well as from interest groups.


Early life

Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was raised by his maternal grandparents. Rustin's grandmother, Julia, was a Quaker, though she attended her husband's A.M.E. Church. She was also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). NAACP leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson were frequent guests in the Rustin home. With these influences in his early life, Rustin campaigned against racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws in his youth.

In 1932, Rustin entered Wilberforce University. As a student at Wilberforce, Rustin was active in a number of campus organizations - among them the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. He left Wilberforce in 1936 before taking his final exams and later attended Cheyney State Teachers College, now called Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. After completing an activist training program conducted by the American Friends Service Committee, Rustin moved to Harlem in 1937 and began studying at City College of New York. There he became involved in efforts to free the Scottsboro Boys– nine young black men who were accused of raping two white women. He also became a member of the Young Communist League in 1936; soon after coming to New York City, he also became a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Rustin was an accomplished tenor vocalist, entering both Wilberforce University and Cheyney State Teachers College on music scholarships.[2] In 1939 he was in the chorus of a short-lived musical that starred Paul Robeson. Blues singer Josh White was also a cast member, and later invited Rustin to join his band, Josh White and the Carolinians. This gave Rustin the opportunity to become a regular performer at the Café Society nightclub in in Greenwich Village, which widened his social and intellectual contacts.[3]

Evolving affiliations

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) was originally a strong supporter of the civil rights movement, but in 1941, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin ordered the CPUSA to abandon civil rights work and focus on support for U.S. involvement in World War II. Disillusioned by this betrayal, Rustin began working with anti-Communist Socialists such as A. Philip Randolph, the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and A. J. Muste, leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).

The three of them proposed a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the armed forces, but the march was canceled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 (the Fair Employment Act), which banned discrimination in defense industries and federal bureaus. Rustin also went to California to protect the property of Japanese-Americans imprisoned in internment camps. Impressed with Rustin's organizational skills, Muste appointed him as FOR's secretary for student and general affairs.

In 1942, Rustin assisted two other staffers of FOR, George Houser and James L. Farmer, Jr., and a third activist, Bernice Fisher as they formed the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Rustin was not a direct founder but was "an uncle of CORE," Farmer and Houser said later. CORE was conceived as a pacifist organization based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau and modeled after Mohandas Gandhi's non-violent resistance against British rule in India. As pacifists, Rustin, Houser, and other members of FOR and CORE were arrested for violating the Selective Service Act. From 1944 to 1946, Rustin was imprisoned in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, where he organized protests against segregated dining facilities. During his incarceration, Rustin also organized FOR's Free India Committee. After his release from prison, he was frequently arrested for protesting against British rule in India and Africa.

Just before a trip to Africa, while college secretary of the FOR, Rustin recorded a 10" LP for "Fellowship Records." On it he sang Elizabethan Songs and spirituals accompanied on the harpsichord by Margaret Davison. [from liner notes Fellowship Records 102]

Influence on the civil-rights movement

Rustin and Houser organized the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947. This was the first of the Freedom Rides to test the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel (Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia). CORE's Gandhian tactics were opposed strenuously by the NAACP, and participants in the Journey of Reconciliation were arrested several times. Arrested with Jewish activist Igal Roodenko, Rustin served twenty-two days on a chain gang in North Carolina for violating Jim Crow laws regarding segregated seating on public transportation.

In 1948, Rustin traveled to India to learn nonviolence techniques directly from the leaders of the Gandhian movement at a conference that was organized by Gandhi himself before he was assassinated earlier that year. Between 1947 and 1952, Rustin met with leaders of Ghana's and Nigeria's independence movements and, in 1951, he formed the Committee to Support South African Resistance, which later became the American Committee on Africa. In 1953, Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, California; originally charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct, he eventually pleaded guilty to a single, lesser charge of "sex perversion" (as consensual sodomy was officially referred to in California at the time) and served 60 days in jail. This was the first time that his homosexuality had come to public attention, yet he remained candid about his sexuality, which was still criminalized throughout the United States. After his conviction, he was fired from FOR, though he became the executive secretary of the War Resisters League.

Rustin served as an unidentified member of the American Friends Service Committee's task force to prepare one of the most influential and widely commented upon pacifist essays ever produced in the United States, "Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,"[4] published in 1955. (According to the chairman of the group, Stephen Cary, Rustin's membership was repressed at his own request because he believed that his known sexual orientation would compromise the 71-page pamphlet once it appeared.) It analyzed the cold war and the American response to it and recommended non-violent solutions.

Rustin took leave from the War Resisters League in 1956 to advise Martin Luther King Jr. on Gandhian tactics as King organized the public transportation boycott in Montgomery, Alabama known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The following year, Rustin and King began organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Many African-American leaders were concerned that Rustin's sexual orientation and Communist past would undermine support for the civil rights movement. U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who was a member of the SCLC's board, forced Rustin's resignation from the SCLC in 1960 by threatening to discuss Rustin's morals charge in Congress.[5] Although Rustin was open about his sexual orientation and his conviction was a matter of public record, it had not been discussed widely outside the civil rights leadership.

When Rustin and Randolph organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, Senator Strom Thurmond railed against Rustin as a "Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual" and produced an FBI photograph of Rustin talking to King while King was bathing, to imply that there was a same-sex relationship between the two. Both men denied the allegation of an affair, but, despite King's support, NAACP chairman Roy Wilkins did not want Rustin to receive any public recognition for his role in planning the march—though, in fact, he did become quite well-known. After the March on Washington, Rustin organized the New York City School Boycott. When Rustin was invited to speak at the University of Virginia in 1964, school administrators tried to ban him, out of fear that he would organize another school boycott there.

Rustin, 1965

After passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, Rustin advocated closer ties between the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party and its labor activist base. He was the founder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and a regular columnist for the AFL-CIO newspaper. He wrote an influential article called "From Protest to Politics," that led to a response by another civil rights activist, Staughton Lynd, called "Coalition Politics or Nonviolent Revolution?" Rustin was an early supporter of President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policy, but as the war escalated and began to supersede Democratic programs for racial reconciliation and labor reform, Rustin returned to his pacifist roots. Still, he was seen as a "sell-out" by the burgeoning Black Power movement, whose identity politics he rejected—though he liked to point out that he was one of the early sporters of an "Afro" style haircut..

During the early 1970s Rustin served on the board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin worked as a human rights and election monitor for Freedom House. He also testified on behalf of New York State's Gay Rights Bill and, in 1986, gave a speech "The New Niggers Are Gays," in which he asserted,

Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new "niggers" are gays. . . . It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. . . . The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.[6]

Rustin died on August 24, 1987, of a perforated appendix. An obituary that appeared in the New York Times reported, "Looking back at his career, Mr. Rustin, a Quaker, once wrote: 'The principal factors which influenced my life are 1) nonviolent tactics; 2) constitutional means; 3) democratic procedures; 4) respect for human personality; 5) a belief that all people are one.'"[7]


Rustin speaks with civil rights activists before a demonstration, 1964

At least two high schools have been named for Rustin. Bayard Rustin High School for the Humanities (formerly Humanities High School and Charles Evans Hughes High School) is located in the Chelsea section of New York City,[8] but on January 8, 2009, the New York City Department of Education announced that they would be closing the school by 2012 due to poor performance.[9] Bayard Rustin High School is located in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Other public buildings named for Rustin include the Bayard Rustin Library at the Affirmations Gay/Lesbian Community Center in Ferndale, MI and the Bayard Rustin Social Justice Center in Conway, Arkansas.

In July 2007, with the permission of the Estate of Bayard Rustin, a group of San Francisco Bay Area African American LGBT community leaders formed the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition (BRC) to promote greater participation in the electoral process, advance civil and human rights issues, and generally promote the legacy of Mr. Rustin.

There is much discussion by Farmer and Houser on the founding of CORE in several issues of Fellowship magazine of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1992 (Spring, Summer and Winter issues) and a conference that year on CORE and the origins of the Civil Rights Movement at Bluffton College in Bluffton, Ohio, attended by both Houser and Farmer. Academics and the participants themselves agreed the founders of CORE were Jim Farmer, George Houser and Bernice Fisher. The conference has been preserved on videotape.

See also


  1. ^ De Leon, David (1994). Leaders from the 1960s: a biographical sourcebook of American activism. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 138. ISBN 0313274142.
  2. ^ D’Emilio 2003, pp. 21, 24.
  3. ^ D’Emilio 2003, pp. 31–2.
  4. ^ Online at
  5. ^ Lewis 1978, p. 131.
  6. ^ Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou (June 26, 2009). "Gays Are the New Niggers". Killing the Buddha. Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  7. ^ Bayard Rustin Is Dead at 75; Pacifist and a Rights Activist
  8. ^,
  9. ^,


  • Anderson, Jervis. Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997).
  • Bennett, Scott H. Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963. (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2003). ISBN 0-8156-3028-X.
  • Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (New York: Touchstone, 1989).
  • Carbado, Devon W. and Donald Weise, editors. Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2003). ISBN 1-57344-174-0
  • D’Emilio, John. Lost Prophet: Bayard Rustin and the Quest for Peace and Justice in America (New York: The Free Press, 2003).
  • D'Emilio, John. Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004). ISBN 0-226-14269-8
  • Haskins, James. Bayard Rustin: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Hyperion, 1997).
  • Kates, Nancy and Bennett Singer (dirs.) Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2003)
  • King, Martin Luther Jr.; Carson, Clayborne; Luker, Ralph & Penny A. Russell The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Volume IV: Symbol of the Movement, January 1957-December 1958. University of California Press, 2000. ISBN 0520222318
  • Lewis, David L. King: A Biography. (University of Illinois Press, 1978). ISBN 0252006801.
  • Rustin, Bayard. Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971).

External links

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