(March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987)
An American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights, and
was a close confidant & organizer for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bayard Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1912. He moved to New York in
the 1930s and was involved in pacifist groups and early civil rights protests. Combining non-violent
resistance with organizational skills, he was a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s.
Though he was arrested several times for his own civil disobedience and open homosexuality, he
continued to fight for equality. He died in New York City on August 24, 1987.
Early Life and Education
Bayard Rustin was born on March 17, 1912, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He had been raised to
believe that his parents were Julia and Janifer Rustin, when in fact they were his grandparents. He
discovered the truth before adolescence, that the woman he thought was his sibling, Florence, was in
fact his mother, who'd had Rustin with West Indian immigrant Archie Hopkins.
Rustin attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Cheyney State Teachers College (now Cheney
University of Pennsylvania) in Pennsylvania, both historically black schools. In 1937 he moved to New
York City and studied at City College of New York. He was briefly involved with the Young Communist
League in 1930s before he became disillusioned with its activities and resigned.
Political Philosophy and Civil Rights Career
In his personal philosophy, Rustin combined the pacifism of the Quaker religion, the non-violent
resistance taught by Mahatma Gandhi, and the socialism espoused by African-American labor leader
A. Philip Randolph. During the Second World War he worked for Randolph, fighting against racial
discrimination in war-related hiring. After meeting A. J. Muste, a minister and labor organizer, he also
participated in several pacifist groups, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Rustin was punished several times for his beliefs. During the war, he was jailed for two years when
he refused to register for the draft. When he took part in protests against the segregated public transit
system in 1947, he was arrested in North Carolina and sentenced to work on a chain gang for several
weeks. In 1953 he was arrested on a morals charge for publicly engaging in homosexual activity and
was sent to jail for 60 days; however, he continued to live as an openly gay man.
By the 1950s, Rustin was an expert organizer of human rights protests. In 1958, he played an
important role in coordinating a march in Aldermaston, England, in which 10,000 attendees
demonstrated against nuclear weapons.
Martin Luther King and the March on Washington
Rustin met the young civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and began working with
King as an organizer and strategist in 1955. He taught King about Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent
resistance and advised him on the tactics of civil disobedience. He assisted King with the boycott of
segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956. Most famously, Rustin was a key figure in the
organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which King delivered his legendary
"I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963.
In 1965, Rustin and his mentor Randolph co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor
organization for African-American trade union members. Rustin continued his work within the civil
rights and peace movements, and was much in demand as a public speaker.
Later Career and Publications
Rustin received numerous awards and honorary degrees throughout his career. His writings about
civil rights were published in the collection Down the Line in 1971 and in Strategies for Freedom in
1976. He continued to speak about the importance of economic equality within the Civil Rights
Movement, as well as the need for social rights for gays and lesbians.
Bayard Rustin died of a ruptured appendix in New York City on August 24, 1987, at the age of 75.
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