History has largely ignored the man who taught nonviolence to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Born black and gay in 1912, Bayard Rustin emerged into a war that was not of his choosing. Rustin was instrumental in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), helping to organize support for Martin Luther King as a prominent leader of the movement. When Bayard Rustin met Dr. King, King had armed guards around his home and carried a handgun. Rustin had spent time learning nonviolence from Gandhi and eventually convinced Martin Luther King to adopt the strategy of nonviolence for which he became known.
Also, Rustin organized the March on Washington in 1963. He scheduled speakers and trained off-duty police officers in crowd management for the march. In a heartbreaking move, the chairman of the NAACP didn’t want Bayard Rustin to receive any recognition for his effort. Why? Because Rustin had a criminal record. What was Rustin’s crime? He had been charged with and plead guilty to ‘sexual perversion’ which meant consensual homosexual activity. His homosexual orientation lead to him being forced out of the SCLC, the organization he had brought into prominence in the Civil Rights movement.
Bayard Rustin died in 1987 of a perforated appendix.
Why he’s being forgotten: The public’s “discomfort” with his sexual orientation. Into the 1970s and 80s, Rustin fought for equal rights for LGBT Americans. When he spoke before Congress the year before his death, he said, “The new “niggers” are gays…. It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change.”
Photo: Flickr/ US Department of Labor