Who was Bayard Rustin?
Bayard Rustin was an American civil rights activist who fought alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the mid-1960s. Rustin committed himself to a life of non-violence and projected these values when fighting for rights.
Bayard Rustin organized and initiated the Freedom Rides and the March on Washington, where he stood beside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he gave his influential "I Have a Dream" speech.
Rustin fought for the rights of others while battling discrimination of his own as he was a Black gay male.
Bayard Rustin was born in Pennsylvania in 1912 and raised by his two grandparents alongside his 11 other siblings. Rustin’s grandmother was a part of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), exposing Rustin to many prominent Black leaders at the time, such as W.E.B Dubois.
Rustin’s grandparents raised the children in a Quaker household, which influenced his nonviolent ways into adulthood. Rustin attended the City College of New York, where he was involved in many racial justice organizations, such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). It was during his time at this college that he was chosen as a youth organizer for the March on Washington.
Advisor to Dr. King
Rustin first started his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Having formed a mutual respect, Rustin began teaching Dr. King his nonviolent ways. He used his knowledge from studying the Gandhian lifestyle to educate Dr. King on the value of nonviolent approaches and tactics.
Bayard played a large role in bringing Black leaders from the South together to become a united group through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLS), and he was also instrumental in drafting “Stride Toward Freedom,” the name of Dr.King's memoir.
Struggles with Sexuality
In 1953, when homosexuality was still rampantly criminalized throughout the United States, Bayard Rustin was arrested for committing a homosexual act. His sexuality was outed to the public as a crime, leading some of his fellow Civil Rights leaders to criticize his identity. Since Bayard's sexuality was now public knowledge, many individuals and politicians who opposed Rustin used this as a point of attack to demean his character. For this reason, Rustin often avoided public speaking or being the face of movements, instead taking an advising role to avoid such attacks.
Death and Legacy
One late night in 1987, Bayard Rustin was admitted to the hospital. He was diagnosed with peritonitis and a perforated appendix, which was giving him severe abdominal pain. He underwent surgery, but due to his history of heart issues, he went into cardiac arrest on the operating table and died shortly after.
Bayard's legacy lived on by his survivors as a man who spent his life fighting for civil rights and advising many prominent leaders. It was after his death that he was given the name “Mr. March on Washington” by fellow Civil Rights leader A. Philip Randolph.
Bayard Rustin: A Gay Man in the Civil Rights Movement. (2021, February 5). Black History Month 2021. https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/bhm-heroes/bayard-rustin-gay-man-in-the-civil-rights-movement/#:~:text=In%20the%20pacifist%20Fellowship%20of,racial%20segregation%20on%20interstate%20busing
Bayard Rustin Is Dead at 75; Pacifist and a Rights Activist (Published 1987). (2021). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/25/obituaries/bayard-rustin-is-dead-at-75-pacifist-and-a-rights-activist.html
Rustin, Bayard. (2017, May 31). The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/rustin-bayard