DCBigPappa's Blog

Politics & Pop Culture from a homocon.

Black History Month: Bayard Rustin


Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, pacifism and non-violence, and gay rights.

In the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Rustin practiced nonviolence. He was a leading activist of the early 1947–1955 civil-rights movement, helping to initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge with civil disobedience racial segregation on interstate busing.  He recognized Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership, and helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen King’s leadership; Rustin promoted the philosophy of nonviolence and the practices of nonviolent resistance, which he had observed while working with Gandhi’s movement in India.  Rustin became a leading strategist of the civil rights movement from 1955–1968.  He was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was headed by A. Philip Randolph, the leading African-American labor-union president and socialist. Rustin also influenced young activists, such as Tom Kahn and Stokely Carmichael, in organizations like the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

After the passage of the civil-rights legislation of 1964–1965, Rustin focused attention on the economic problems of working-class and unemployed African Americans, suggesting that the civil-rights movement had left its period of “protest” and had entered an era of “politics”, in which the Black community had to ally with the labor movement.  Rustin became the head of the AFL–CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, which promoted the integration of formerly all-white unions and promoted the unionization of African Americans.

Rustin was a gay man who had been arrested for a homosexual act in 1953.  Homosexuality was criminalized through the 1960s and stigmatized through the 1970s.  Rustin’s sexuality, or at least his embarrassingly public criminal charge, was criticized by some fellow pacifists and civil-rights leaders. Rustin was attacked as a “pervert” or “immoral influence” by political opponents from segregationists to Black power militants, and from the 1950s through the 1970s.  To avoid such attacks, Rustin served only rarely as a public spokesperson.  He usually acted as an influential adviser to civil-rights leaders.  In the 1970s, he became a public advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes.

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