Yesterday was Bayard Rustin's 100th birthday. While not a household name, his organizing tenacity and political philosophies, brought about multiple civil rights victories in the United States. He did all of this while being out about his gay sexuality, a rarity for many LGBT men and women in the 20th century.
'Rustin was more responsible than anyone for making Gandhi's philosophy a central feature of the civil rights movement,' wrote John D’Emilio for the Huffington Post. ' In the 1940s he and others experimented with nonviolent direct action as a means of challenging racial injustice.'
In 1955 when a young preacher, named Martin Luther King, Jr., was leading a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, Rustin joined King and "strategized Dr. King's emergence as a national leader."
Although King's 'I Have a Dream" are the words most remember from the 1963 March on Washington, the event came about only because of Rustin's planning. D’Emilio points out the press at the time called him 'Mr. March on Washington.'
Despite these achievements, Rustin's various contributions to social justice are are not well known because he lived an out life. Consider the audacity of that. A black man, who also served prison time rather than serve in World War II (he was a pacifist), was out of the closet when anti-sodomy laws ruled the nation. He refused to pretend. Because of this he had to take a back seat, and push others to lead.
'Rustin's survival, and the survival of the movements he championed, depended on his staying out of the limelight and working in the background,' D’Emilio maintains.
From D’Emilio's persecptive it's past time the Rustin's legacy became more mainstream.