Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Yet one of those great civil rights leaders has all but been forgotten. Here is a post from Harry’s Place about Bayard Rustin.
It is especially pleasing to see as part of the remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom the rehabilitation of Bayard Rustin, a lost gay hero or a lost hero full-stop.
As, of all people, Robert Turner of Log Cabin Republicans put it in the Washington Blade:
It is important that we in the gay community observe and honor our heroes of all nationalities, races, and genders. Rustin deserves a place in the annals of history right next to Frank Kameny and Harvey Milk.
Rustin was a gay liberationist, a socialist, a civil rights leader and a pacifist. And he was the March’s organiser. A week after the March it was he who was on the cover of Life Magazine, not MLK.
His leadership almost didn’t happen. After being jailed as a ‘conscientious objector’ in World War II, and jailed again in the 1950s after being caught having sex with two men in a car, and having briefly been a communist, it is to their credit that MLK and other civil rights leaders overruled objections to Rustin as organiser. This was despite three weeks before the March on Washington, segregationist senator Strom Thurmond entering into the congressional record a picture of “pervert” Rustin talking to King while King was in a bathtub.
Gary Younge, who has a new book on the March (I’ve posted video of a fascinating interview with Younge after the jump), quotes Roy Wilkins of the NAACP saying:
I don’t want you leading that march on Washington, because you know I don’t give a damn about what they say, but publicly I don’t want to have to defend the draft dodging. I know you’re a Quaker, but that’s not what I’ll have to defend. I’ll have to defend draft dodging. I’ll have to defend promiscuity. The question is never going to be homosexuality, it’s going to be promiscuity and I can’t defend that.
In 1960, shamefully, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of Harlem, had threatened that he would say King was having an affair with Rustin unless he cut him out of the top civil rights leadership, his inner circle. King complied.
According to John D’Emilio, author of ‘Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin’, Rustin had expected that he would be defended.
Rustin was also a huge supporter of Israel and a campaigner against antisemitism. Read Elder of Ziyon
Meanwhile my beloved father (RIP), a politically appointed Reagan Republican, fighter for civil rights, defender of Israel and consummate American patriot, had the privilege of meeting Bayard Rustin. My parents were pleased to have hosted him in their home.