Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin Picture (1910 – 1987) Politician

Bayard Rustin was born March 17, 1910 in Chester, Pennsylvania and was raised by his grandfather, a caterer, and his grandmother, a Quaker who founded the black day nursery in Chester and was head of the local NAACP chapter. After high school, Rustin worked a series of odd jobs, traveling and studying at various colleges such as Cheyney State Teacher’s College in Pennsylvania, Wilberforce University of Ohio, and City College in New York City but did not receive a degree.

In 1936 Rustin joined the Young Communist League but resigned in 1941 to work for an antiwar group. Also in 1941, he began working for the Fellowship for Racial Equality (CORE) as a field secretary helping. A. Philip Randolph organize a civil rights protest march in Washington, D.C., of which pressured President Delano Roosevelt into ending racial discrimination in the war industries.

A Quaker and pacifist, Rustin spent two and a half years in prison as a conscientious objector during WWII. After the war, in 1947, he organized the first freedom rides in North Carolina to protect segregation on buses, for which he was arrested and spent several weeks on a prison chain gang. All in all, Rustin would be arrested or jailed over twenty times during his lifetime for his civil right and pacifist activities. In 1953, Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, California during his organization of demonstrations against discrimination in restaurants and hotels. Entrapped, Rustin was arrested on a “sex perversion” charge and sentenced to sixty days.

From 1953-1955, Rustin was the executive director of the War Resisters League, and from 1955 to 1960 he worked as a special aide to Martin Luther King Jr to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, drafting the original plan for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and master-minding civil rights demonstrations in 1960 at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Perhaps his greatest accomplishments was planning the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which brought over two hundred thousand people to the nation’s capital for the demonstration. Once again, his homosexuality became an issue with the concerned Executive Director of the NAACP who asked him to step aside for fear it would hurt their cause. In spite of this, the march went ahead as planned.

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From 1964 until his death, Rustin was the head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a New York-based educational, civil rights, and labor organization. He advocated coalition building among black, gay, Jewish, liberal/leftist, and labor-union constituencies and enunciated his cause through pacifist means. In an interview with the Village Voice Rustin was quoted “ I think that the gay community has a moral obligation… to do whatever is possible to encourage more and more gays to come out of the closet. God knows, people stay in the closet because it’s very painful to come out. But we cannot play the political role we could play, because we don’t have the numbers.’