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Bayard Rustin, March on Washington Organizer

Gay Rights Leader Bayard Rustin


Bayard Rustin in his office at the A. Philip Randolph Institute, 1972.

Bayard Rustin in his office at the A. Philip Randolph Institute, 1972. In 1965, Rustin became Executive Director of the Institute.

© Estate of Bayard Rustin
Did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s colleague and the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man?

Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Rustin began his impressive political career at an early age after an education at Wilberforce University, Cheyney State College and City College of New York (never received B.A.). Not only was he an integral part of the African-American civil rights movement, but became one of the leading advocates and examples for gay equality.

Bayard Rustin's celebrated career captured the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who recruited Rustin as an assistant and colleague in 1956. Below is a streaming time line of affiliations and causes that led up to Rustin's lead role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech:

1937 Rustin began his activist career by training at the American Friends Service Committee.

1937 Became organizer for the Youth Communist League (later to become anti-Communist).

1941 Quit Youth Communist League. Colleague of A. Philip Randolph, President of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Race Relations Secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).

1942 Field Secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Colleague of Norman Thomas, a leader in the democratic socialist movement.

1947 Helped plan the Journey of Reconciliation "freedom ride" which paved way for the freedom rides in the early 1960's. After being arrested, Rustin's experiences on a chain gang were chronicled on The New York Post which initiated an investigation that eliminated chain gangs in North Carolina.

1940's Assisted in lobbying President Truman to eliminate segregation in the military.

1945 Organized the Free India Committee, fighting for India's independence from Britain.

1951 Organized the Committee to Support South African Resistance (American Committee on Africa).

1953 Joined the War Resisters League.

1956 Began assisting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

1957 Organized the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.

1960's Helped form the Recruitment and Training Program (R-T-P). Vice Chairman of the International Rescue Committee.

1963 Deputy Director and chief organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King presented the "I Have a Dream" speech.

1964 Helped found the A. Randolph Institute (APRI).

1980 Participated in the March for Survival on the Thai-Cambodian border.

1982 Helped found the National Emergency Coalition for Haitian Rights. Chairman of the Executive committee of Freedom House.

1983 Rustin's report South Africa: Is Peaceful Change Possible? led to the formation of Project South Africa.

Before his death, Rustin wrote several essays, recorded songs and received numerous honorary doctorates while continuing his involvement as an officer on numerous human rights committees until his death in 1987. He is survived by his partner of 10 years, Walter Naegle.

You can learn more about and his inspiring influence on today's African-American and gay civil rights movements in the documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin.
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