Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, where his family was involved in civil rights work. He worked with the civil disobedience efforts led by Mahatma Gandhi in India and was an active member of the pacifist group Fellowship of Reconciliation. Rustin worked with A. Phillip Randolph on the 1941 March on Washington Movement and helped organized Freedom Rides in the 1940’s.
Rustin is most widely recognized for his role as the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was one of Martin Luther King Jr’s most trusted advisers, having taught King about the principles of nonviolence. A self-acknowledged gay man, Rustin was arrested for public homosexual activity a decade before the March. Many fellow movement workers resented him for the notoriety drawn by the incident which was used by segregationists and other opponents as well as younger Black power leaders, to disparage him as a “pervert” and “immoral influence”. Despite his inclusion in the iconic 1963 Life Magazine cover photo of movement leaders, Rustin’s name was gradually pushed to the margins of movement history by the intersecting forces of racism and homophobia.
Following the victories of civil rights legislation, Rustin focused upon economic justice issues in Black communities and international humanitarian work. In the last decade of his life, Rustin incorporated gay and lesbian rights in his public advocacy. We lift his name as one of the world’s most influential actors in the continued struggle for freedom and justice. He continues to serve as an inspiration for Black LGBT people and our allies whose everyday lives are acts of resistance.
© 2016 Rustin Lorde Breakfast Southern Unity Movement