He was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions. Even MLK would cut ties with him in after Rustin was found guilty of having sex with a man. By , however, King asked Rustin to return.
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He was tactically brilliant, visionary and King could not succeed without him by his side. From pacifism to ending poverty to battles for sexual freedom, Rustin was a tireless activist who was nearly erased from history. This book ensures we remember Rustin not only changed America — he changed the world for the better. If you liked this you might also like 10 lessons from Bayard Rustin. Increasingly, he viewed the struggle for civil rights in the United States as part of a worldwide movement against war and colonialism. Gay sex was a crime in every state. But Randolph got him a similar job with the War Resisters League, a pacifist group founded in , where Rustin worked for the next twelve years.
Over the next decade, Rustin receded from public view. He continued to play a critical behind-the-scenes role as an organizer within the civil-rights movement. He had to cut short his first visit to Montgomery because, as a gay man and a former Communist, he was a political liability.
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This was the genesis of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—conceived by Rustin and founded with King as its first president—which would catapult King to the national stage. But in , Randolph, as the elder statesman of the movement, pulled together the leaders of the major civil-rights, labor, and liberal religious organizations and laid out his plan for a march on Washington.
Randolph envisioned a march that would push for federal legislation, particularly for the Civil Rights Act. President John F. Kennedy had proposed that law, but it had stalled in Congress. Its name would be the March for Jobs and Freedom. And Randolph wanted Rustin to run it. The leaders Randolph gathered endorsed the plan. Randolph outmaneuvered Wilkins by announcing that he would be its director and choose his own deputy: Rustin, of course. Kennedy tried to dissuade them from holding the march, contending that it would undermine support for the Civil Rights Act.
But Randolph would not be cowed. Three weeks before the August 28 march, Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina segregationist, publicly attacked Rustin on the floor of the Senate by reading reports of his Pasadena arrest for homosexual behavior a decade earlier—documents he probably got from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
The march was a huge success. More than , people attended. He continued his organizing work within the civil-rights, peace, and labor movements.
He was still in demand as a public speaker, and he was still valued for his strategic brilliance. But he never again had the same influence he did when organizing the Washington march. In that piece he argued that the coalition that had come together for the March on Washington needed to place less emphasis on protest and focus on electing liberal Democrats who could enact a progressive policy agenda centered on employment, housing, and civil rights.
They did not trust the unions or the Democratic Party.
Rustin was among the first public figures to call for the withdrawal of all American forces from South Vietnam, but as LBJ escalated the war, Rustin muted his criticisms. He wanted to avoid alienating LBJ, key Democrats, and union leaders who supported the war—and who funded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which had been created in to provide Rustin with an organizational home.
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When King announced his opposition to the war in , it caused a rift between the two men. He had been wary of the burgeoning gay-rights movement, which exploded after the Stonewall riot in New York City in But at the end of his life, when he was involved in a stable relationship, he began speaking publicly about the importance of civil rights for gays and lesbians.
I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters
Thanks in part to a documentary, Brother Outsider , Rustin has become an icon for gay-rights activists. A sophisticated picture book on key civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Produced by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer. Documentary about the life of peace, labor, and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. Search for:. Click to email this to a friend Opens in new window Click to share on Pinterest Opens in new window Click to share on Twitter Opens in new window Click to share on Facebook Opens in new window.
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