“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being,” Bayard Rustin said. “His very act of protest confers dignity on him.”
Rustin was a black activist whose contributions to the civil rights movement helped grow the nonviolent protest movement that evolved from the Montgomery bus boycott. This event would help Martin Luther King Jr. become one of the central figures in civil rights history.
Although not forgotten, Rustin is no more than a footnote compared to Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks or Malcolm X. Relegated to work behind the scenes because of his past association with the Communist party, Rustin would serve as King’s assistant from 1955 to 1960.
Rustin counseled and gave advice to King on nonviolent demonstration. He also organized important events that are now considered historic moments in American history.
An organizer of the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947, which was an inspiration for the historic Freedom Rides,
Rustin helped set a blueprint for future nonviolent demonstrations against racial discrimination. Rustin was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, which was immortalized by King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Rustin also was the chief organizer of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which promoted nonviolent protests in an effort the end segregation.
“Bayard Rustin was a brilliant grassroots organizer,” Black Studies instructor Nathan Katungi said.
“He was a major force in organizing the 1963 historical March On Washington. As a young activist, he helped put pressure on President Truman to integrate the military. ”
Rustin eventually grew disillusioned with nonviolent demonstrations and shifted his attention elsewhere, parting ways with King in 1963.
Aside from his civil rights contributions, Rustin became an advocate for gay and lesbian causes. Rustin was a gay man and had been arrested in 1953 for homosexual activity.
Rustin would go on to promote educational, labor and civil rights reforms until the end of his life.