Bayard Rustin was a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and an early influential advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1948, Rustin traveled to India to learn techniques of nonviolent civil resistance directly from the leaders of the Gandhian movement. The conference had been organized before Gandhi's assassination earlier that year.
It was Rustin who advised and influenced King to adopt the Gandhian principles of nonviolence in civil disobedience and protest for social justice.
Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, California, in 1953 for sexual activity with another man in a parked car. Originally charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct, he pleaded guilty to a single, lesser charge of "sex perversion" (as sodomy was officially referred to in California then, even if consensual) and served 60 days in jail. This was the first time that his homosexuality had come to public attention. He had been and remained candid in private about his sexuality, although homosexual activity was still criminalized throughout the United States.
A few weeks before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond railed against Rustin as a "Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual," and had his entire Pasadena arrest file entered in the record.Thurmond also produced a Federal Bureau of Investigation photograph of Rustin talking to King while King was bathing, to imply that there was a same-sex relationship between the two. Both men denied the allegation of an affair.
Rustin was instrumental in organizing the march. He drilled off-duty police officers as marshals, bus captains to direct traffic, and scheduled the podium speakers. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rachelle Horowitz were aides. Despite King's support, NAACP chairman Roy Wilkins did not want Rustin to receive any public credit for his role in planning the march. Nevertheless, he did become well known. On September 6, 1963, a photograph of Rustin and Randolph appeared on the cover of Life magazine, identifying them as "the leaders" of the March.
Rustin did not engage in any gay rights activism until the 1980s. He was urged to do so by his partner Walter Naegle, who has said that "I think that if I hadn't been in the office at that time, when these invitations [from gay organizations] came in, he probably wouldn't have done them."
Due to the lack of marriage equality at the time Rustin and partner Walter Naegle took an unconventional step to solidify their partnership and protect their unification. In 1982 Rustin adopted Naegle, 30 years old at the time, in order to legalize their union.
Rustin "faded from the shortlist of well-known civil rights lions," in part because he was active behind the scenes, and also because of public discomfort with his sexual orientation and former communist membership. In addition, Rustin's tilt toward neo-conservatism in the late 1960s led him into disagreement with most civil rights leaders.
On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama announced that he would posthumously award Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award in the United States. The citation in the press release stated:
Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.
At the White House ceremony on November 20, 2013, President Obama presented Rustin's award to Walter Naegle, his partner of 10 years at the time of Rustin's death.The primary source of the copy in this post is Wikipedia.
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