Bayard Rustin should also be remembered


While this week, those in the Untied States as well as in Canada are remembering The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the transformative Civil Rights leader the month of his birth (he would have been 83 on Jan. 15th). He was assassinated in 1968 standing on his Memphis balcony. He was 39 and was in the Tennessee city to lead a protest march in sympathy with the striking garbage workers, many who were African American.

It would also be wise to remember Bayard Rustin (1910-1987), another Africa American, who was born out of wedlock in 1910, became a little known Civil Rights leader who was a pacifist during WWII and one-time member of the U.S. Communist Party. He also also a homosexual.

It was fortunate for the movement that King and Philip Randolph, U.S. union leader and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, insisted that Rustin was right for the job - regardless of Rustin’s political views or sexual orientation - of organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was at this unprecedented Civil Rights march that King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In his final years Rustin was active in the protests against the Vietnam War and in the gayrights movement, states the website www.sparticus.schoolnet.co.net.uk In 1986 he claimed: "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated."

We should also remember that movements are peopled with people like Rustin. The grunt worker, the behind the scenes individuals like Rustin who was talented at organizing, had passion, and recognized that individuals had (and still have) a choice to stand of and be counted and get involved to right the wrongs in society.

Take a look at Rustin’s involvement in Civil Rights:

- Involved in the 1936 Scottsboro Case, where nine African Americans were falsely convicted for the raping of two white women on a Memphis-bound train, in 1931.

- Involved in the first proposed 1941 March on Washington protesting the racial discrimination in U.S. armed forces. The march was called off after forcing the hand of President Franklin D.Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802. It bared discrimination in defense industries and federal government bureaus.

- Organized protests against segregated dinning halls in prison where he was serving time for refusing to serve in the armed forces in the U.S. during WWII. In a letter to prison warden E.G. Hagerman, Rustin wrote, “ Both morally and practically, segregation is to me a basic injustice… One can accept it without protest, seek to avoid it, or resist the injustice non-violently. To accept it is to perpetuate it.”
- In 1947, he planned a campaign with others against segregated transportation in the U.S., common on trains, buses and even in depot waiting rooms. It was the arrest of Rosa Parks on Dec.,1955, after refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man. This became the celebrated 1956 U.S. Supreme Court case outlawing separate accommodations (otherwise known as segregation) largely occurring in the U.S. South.
- Helped formed with King the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization committed to using nonviolence in the struggle for Civil Rights that is still active today.
In one of the more despicable acts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (they also kept what became a very large file on First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt), the F.B.I. had kept a file on Rustin for many years. A FBI undercover agent took a photo of Rustin talking to King while King was taking a bath and planted false stories that Rustin and King were having a homosexual affair.

In was an era when painting people as a ‘Commie’ or a ‘degenerate’ (one of the terms used against gays) was a common tool by laregly the right-wing in the media (Hearst press especially but not exclusivel), institutions such as organizaed religion (church) and government), Rustin some would say, had the unenviable triple whammy against him in most American’s eyes: his refusal to serve in WWII as a pacifist; at one time belonged to the left-wing Communist Party of the U.S., and being gay.

Bayard Rustin should also be remembered This week, it is good that the queer community remember individuals who came before them in the fight, struggles, and successes of acceptance. Be they male or female, young or old, black or white, gay or straight.
Bayard Rustin is such an individual.

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