Before President Obama awarded Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Honor this year, most Americans may never have heard of him. Rustin, one of the most important civil rights organizers of his time, was also the principle organizer of the 1963 March of Washington which we are commemorating each day this week on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary.
Today, as part of that special programming on the 1963 march, we take a close look at its principle organizer: who he was and what motivated him. We can do this fairly well because Rustin left behind a wealth of his own writings.
Bayard Rustin was a founding member of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), a staff member at Fellowship of Reconciliation, and deeply influenced by non-violent Quaker ideology through his grandmother Julia who helped raise him. He was an anti-colonial activist, a conscientious objector, war resister, and strong proponent of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. He was aligned with the Communist Party early in his work but went on to oppose the party. Bayard Rustin is also credited with influencing the non-violent philosophy of none other than Martin Luther King Jr. himself with whom he worked for a time as a special assistant. In addition to his political work he loved books, music, art and poetry.
Many today look back 50 years ago and contend that Bayard Rustin was not given his due because, in addition to his brilliance as an organizer and thinker, Bayard Rustin was also gay and out – a position that was rare and risky in his time.
A new book of Rustin’s letters, edited by Michael Long with a foreword by Julian Bond, was just published by City Lights books. It’s called I Must Resist and it tells the story of Rustin’s life and work in his own words.
GUEST: Michael Long, editor of “I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters.”
Click here to learn more about the book.