“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.”-Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin in 1963

Tomorrow is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bayard Rustin, the civil rights leader who is perhaps best known –if known at all–as the key organizer of the famous 1963 March on Washington.

Rustin, along with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Philip Randolph made that August day in 1963 one that went down in history books. However, after the march was over, Rustin did not join his comrades to celebrate the march’s success. Calvin Craig Miller, author of No Easy Answers: Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement, wrote:

As the day wound to a close, King, Randolph, and other march leaders met at the White House with President John F. Kennedy. Bayard was not among them. Instead, he attended to the inglorious details that had fallen to him during his many years as a social activist. There was a simple, brutal reason for Rustin’s absence at the White House that historic day. In addition to being black, Rustin carried another stigma in America of 1963: he was an acknowledged homosexual who had to labor in the shadows while others enjoyed the limelight. While the marchers returned home and a select few talked with the president, Bayard supervised the litter crews, making sure that the streets were as clean as the March on Washington had found them.

Rustin fought for equality his whole life, and Miller wrote, “Today, Bayard Rustin is remembered as a tireless force, a man who gave his life and his work to the cause he so fervently believed in, and who struggled to bear two crosses–being black and being gay–at a time when one was more than enough.”

This sentiment is echoed by the Bayard Rustin Coalition, which calls Rustin “one of the leading advocates and examples for gay equality.”

In its obituary of Bayard Rustin, 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.'”

Rustin’s life is certainly one worth both praise and study, and to that end, the University of Illinois at Chicago is one of many institutions across the country that will hold tributes during this one hundredth anniversary year.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information about Bayard Rustin, check out No Easy Answers: Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement by Calvin Craig Miller (ISBN 9781931798435)

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Published in: on March 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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