Have You Heard of Bayard Rustin?


Today, on the anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, many will recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring “I Have a Dream” speech or the historic numbers for this peaceful demonstration in our nation’s capitol (Others are more likely discussing that one political provocateur from Fox News who is having a little rally today in D.C.) I want to take a moment and remember one of my heroes, a man usually forgotten by history.

Bayard Rustin: Civil rights leader, gone but not forgotten (image via jrcla.org)

Bayard Rustin was the man. Leading a life dedicated to non-violence and civil rights, he is all but forgotten in our history books. The American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s would have been lacking an essential drive and momentum without him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophies on protests and race relations were deeply influenced by Bayard Rustin. Without Rustin, King would never have become the iconoclast he is today. This man was also a powerhouse organizer for demonstrations and civil rights strategy.

The 1963 Civil Rights March of Washington came about from Rustin’s efforts. He raised $15,000 over a matter of days to bring poor marchers to Washington, organizing the volunteers, buses, cots and sack lunches. He oversaw the coordination and organization of the march over a period of 2 months. He even spoke at the Civil Rights March, but he is absent in our history books and cultural memory.

Why? He was gay.

Rustin was an inspiring, intelligent and overall amazing figure in the Civil Rights movement. The silencing of his story through historical blinders is a tragedy and a great injustice, particularly for the LGBQ community.

Take a moment to watch this clip from “Out of the Past“, a PBS documentary on gay and lesbian rights in the U.S. The following quote from Rustin brings me such sadness:

“I know that, for me, sex must be sublimated if I am to live with myself, and in this world, longer.”

Today, when anyone mentions Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights or even Glenn Beck, ask them: “Have you heard of Bayard Rustin?”

Then tell them his story.

3 thoughts on “Have You Heard of Bayard Rustin?”

    1. That is wonderful! I’ve heard a couple of other stories from people who worked with Rustin and they all held him in the highest regard.

      Next year I want to start a campaign during the lead-up to the March’s anniversary. T-shirts and signs with his face that simply say: “Remember Bayard Rustin.” His name should be ubiquitous in historical texts about the Civil Rights March on Washington.

  1. A friend pointed me to this post. I am listening to the NPR show about him (an episode of State of the Re:union) and I can’t believe that I had not heard of him until now.

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