HB Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin, who was born on this day in 1912 in West Chester (PA, US), helped make Earth a better place. Although he deserves note for having championed specific causes (equality and war resistance, for two examples), he excelled in many areas. Here is a snippet from an essay by Randall Kennedy describing the contriubtions of Mr. Rustin.

Bayard Rustin forged a remarkable career as a social activist. Briefly a member of the Young Communist League, he repudiated communism but remained a socialist throughout his life. A pacifist, he was imprisoned for refusing to comply with the draft during World War II. A champion of racial justice, he fought Jim Crow with sit-ins and other actions that anticipated the tactics of the Civil Rights Revolution. Rustin helped found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He advised Martin Luther King Jr., organized the 1963 March on Washington and wrote several essays that continue to repay close study. Throughout these pursuits, Rustin expressed a gay sexuality for which he was stigmatized as a sexual criminal, a smear that crippled his ability to lead the movements to which he passionately contributed ideas and inspiration.

Prior to playing his role in the founding the SCLC and CORE, Mr. Rustin was a member of the War Resistors League and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. According to biographical information about Mr. Rustin, he was also outstanding in academic pursuits, oratory, athletics, and even singing.

Interestingly, he refused to be portrayed as a champion of gay rights; according to Mr. Kennedy, he wrote, “While I have no problem with being publicly identified as homosexual, it would be dishonest of me to present myself as one who was in the forefront of the struggle for gay rights. The credit for that belongs to others…. While I support full equality, under law, for homosexuals, I fundamentally consider sexual orientation to be a private matter.”

Regardless of whether he wanted to be credited with anything, I acknowledge Mr. Rustin’s contributions to pacifism and equality.

Link to Mr. Kennedy’s 2003 essay (with extensive analysis of John D’Emilio’s book, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin), “From Protest to Patronage.” Also, see the Wikipedia entry about him. It’s no wonder that in West Chester there is a high school named after Mr. Rustin.

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Filed under Birthdays, Civil rights, Equity, Non-violence, Notes and comments, Peace, Politics

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