Bayard Rustin–A Civil Rights Leader

February 9, 2011 at the State House in Providence, the hearing on marriage equality went over six hours and heard testimony pro and con two bills, one of which would legalize same-sex marriage on the same basis as opposite-sex marriage (HR 512). The other (H 5260) would amend our state Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

There were many references to the civil rights movement, a political cause that we recognize as having been on the right side of history.

This rightness was not so apparent fifty years ago, when our nation was experiencing a wrenching and often painful transformation. The civil rights movement was reviled, described as un-American, a threat to society– dire consequences were predicted. Martin Luther King, at the time of his assassination, was being attacked by some who claimed to have been his strongest allies, because he opposed the war in Vietnam. He died in Memphis, TN, where he spoke in support of a union of sanitation workers, on strike for fair wages and working conditions.

At the marriage hearing there was testimony that gay rights are not civil rights, as if a whole person might not be Black and gay, and suffer discrimination on both counts.

There were claims that civil rights leaders unanimously opposed gay rights. This is belied by the life of Bayard Rustin, a fierce, principled and central figure in the Civil Rights Movement.

Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was an American civil rights activist, important largely behind the scenes in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and earlier. He is credited as the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
He counseled Martin Luther King, Jr. on the techniques of nonviolent resistance. He became an advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes in the latter part of his career. Homosexuality was criminalized at the time, which made him a target of suspicion and compromised some of his effectiveness.

The civil rights movement faced many accusations, and many difficult decisions about how to define and defend human rights.

One crucial point was the decision to embrace nonviolence.

Bayard Rustin was instrumental in helping Reverend King to form his nonviolent strategy. Rustin was raised by his Quaker grandparents and had been a war resister in WWII, going to prison as a consequence of his principles.

Arguably the high point of Bayard Rustin’s political career was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which took place on August 28, 1963, the place of Dr. Martin Luther King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin was by all accounts the March’s chief architect. To devise a march of at least one-quarter of a million participants and to coordinate the various sometimes fractious civil rights organizations that played a part in it was a herculean feat of mobilization.

More on Bayard Rustin here.

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10 thoughts on “Bayard Rustin–A Civil Rights Leader

  1. I’ll say this for Bayard Rustin-he wouldn’t join in with the anti-Semitic garbage that so many Black “leaders” found convenient to espouse after the NYC schools controversy.
    People like Sonny Carson,Rhody McCoy,Jesse Jackson,Stokeley Carmichael,Louis Farrakhan,etc.

  2. This is genuine ignorance and curiosity:

    Could the perforated appendix/misdiagnosed appendicitis have been the direct cause of the cardiac arrest which took his life?

    Someone in my family’s history was diagnosed with food poisoning, and later died relating to the ruptured (perforated?) appendix which was diagnosed too late…

    I’m thinking that any serious infection could lead to cardiac or respiratory arrest…

    • Yes,from septicemia-my grandfather died rather young from septicemic pneumonia-it can stop your heart.
      So can a neglected dental abcess.
      Once an infection gets into your bloodstream it can be rapidly critical-even nowadays.
      A burst appendix can result in peritonitis,as deadly today as ever.
      one of the agents I used to partner with survived peritonoitis last eyar thanks to Cipro,but he was incredibly lucky.BTW the Cipro,made him really damn sick also.

  3. Thebehind the scenes architects of much of the modern civil rights movement were Rustin and Ralph Abernathy. It was Rustin, who became a Quaker, was a force in creating CORE, and was the early advocate of non-violent civil disobiedence, and Abernathy, who provided the core of the organization. Both are largely forgotten and it is sad. Rustin was apparently pushed into the backgraound as I recall because of his homosexuality, and past communist party associations. Abernathy worried about King’s philandering activities, and indeed as I recall, wrote about this. King of course, has sincebeen the subject of several published studies that have documented his continued plagerism through his career. All this demonstrates I guess, that we are frequently vitim of what others with agendas want us to see or ignore.Even after they have died, Rustin and Abernathy, and another giant of the civil rights movement, Roy Wilkins, Sr., should be elevated to the positions of accomplishment that escaped them in life.

    • How about James farmer?He led the non violent struggle to desegregate the NY construction unions.It was centered around the then-in progress Downstate Medical School right near my house in 1962-63.
      Mr.Farmer later became an official in the uS Dept.of Labor under Richard Nixon(!!).
      Roy Innes is also ignored by the media in favor of a lump of mucous like Al Sharpton.
      Either accidentally or on purpose there is no mention of such people on Kmareka.

  4. Excellent points. James Farmer and Roy Innes are forgotten or overshadowed by Mr. Sharpton, a rather disagreeable character. One should also not forget A. Phillip Randolph, so active in organized labor and the civil rights movement.

    However, reading Rustin, one cannot be but impressed by the intelligence off the man. Reverend Abernathy has always struck me as a man of genuine honor and strong beliefs, and had a deep sense of genuine morality.

    • Rustin,like John Toland,the great historian engaged communism during the 30′s.Who would blame him?It’s not like being Black was tolerable at the time-it’s totally different from spoiled rich twits barking about Leninist principles.
      A.Phillip Randolph was the leader of the Sleeping Car Porters Union- avery important organization in a period of utter bleakness for Black men looking for a good job.
      Donald-think we’ll ever get an honest answer here?
      We both know who “klaus”is.

  5. “Klaus?” please explain…I have a slight recollection of the comments…

    I also think Jackie Robinson and, earlier, Jesse Owens made huge contributions–the old newsreels of Owens running in Germany and Hitler’s rage are just amazing.

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