Pennsylvania native Bayard Rustin, March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987, was the first openly gay black civil rights leader who notably served as an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr.
Rustin helped organize the first of the Freedom Rides in 1947, testing a Supreme Court ruling banning discrimination in interstate travel, and went on to become a key organizer of the March on Washington in 1963.
On February 3, 1964, Rustin organized “the largest civil rights demonstration” with more than 400,000 people in New York boycotting of public schools to protest their de facto segregation. Worth adding, newspapers reported the event to be absent of complete absence of violence or disorder from the protesters.
While Rustin was a driving force for equality, it did not come welcomed with open arms, doing a few stints in jail. The most outrage instance came in 1953, when was sentenced to 60 days in jail for being openly gay.
In 1960, Rustin hit a low in his career thanks to another black leader. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York. Powell became angry with Rustin and Dr. King when he found out they were planning a march in Los Angeles outside of the Democratic National Convention. Powell met with King to discuss his frustrations and went as far as saying if King did not stop working with Rustin that he would tell people that King and Rustin were gay lovers. Despite Powell’s reasoning for such a harsh threat being personal, King inevitably called off the march and followed Powell’s request to distance himself from Rustin.
Despite challenges with other black activists, Rustin remained engaged and active in the fight for justice and equality until he died in 1987.
“Martin Luther King would not have been the person that he was without the aid, the tutorage of Bayard Rustin”
Civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy told NBC News in 1987 following Rustin’s death at the age of 77.
In 2013, President Obama chose civil rights leader Bayard Rustin to posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“For decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history, because he was openly gay. No medal can change that, but today we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march toward true equality, no matter who we are or who we love.”
President Barack Obama
Check out the most notable Bayard Rustin quotes, one of our unsung heroes of black history, below.
- “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.”
- “If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society. If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.”
- “The organizers and perpetuators of segregation are as much the enemy of America as any foreign invader.”
- “We are all one – and if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.”
- “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.”
- “To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.”
- “Bigotrys birthplace is the sinister back room of the mind where plots and schemes are hatched for the persecution and oppression of other human beings.”
- “The proof that one truly believes is in action.”
- “War is wrong. Conscription for war is inconsistent with freedom of conscience, which is not merely the right to believe but to act on the degree of truth that one receives, to follow a vocation which is God-inspired and God-directed.”
- “If we desire a society in which men are brothers, then we must act towards one another with brotherhood. If we can build such a society, then we would have achieved the ultimate goal of human freedom.”