Monday, October 17, 2016

October 17 - Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was born into political activism, the son of NAACP leaders in West Chester, Pennsylvania who were friends with such luminaries as W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson. Rustin was trained in peaceful activism by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social justice organization, before moving to Harlem in 1937. There, he became involved in the efforts to free the Scottsboro Boys. Other causes Rustin fought for included desegregating interstate bus travel in the 1940s and helping to form CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, as well as participating in the first Freedom Ride in 1947. He was arrested several times for his protests (and once for engaging in homosexual activity), but that didn't stop Martin Luther King, Jr. from hiring Rustin to advise him on Gandhian tactics of non-violent resistance in 1956, during the organization of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He and King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference the next year, where many were not comfortable with Rustin's sexuality; they forced him to resign from SCLC in 1960, but he continued his civil rights work. He organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Rustin moved more into politics the following year, focusing on the economic problems facing the African American community. In the 1980s, Rustin became a public proponent of gay rights, testifying on behalf of New York's Gay Rights Bill in 1986 and famously "adopting" his partner, Walter Naegle (who was 30 at the time), in order to legalize their union. His friendship with Thurgood Marshall is also credited with attributing to the judge's dissenting opinion in upholding the constitutionality of sodomy laws. Though Rustin died in 1987, he was posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2013, which was presented to Naegle.

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