An exemplary human!
Bayard Taylor Rustin was born March 17, 1912, in West Chester, PA, PBS reports. He was a pretty normal child, writing, singing in the choir, playing football, and crediting his Quaker values of equality to his grandparents. An openly gay Black man, Rustin never allowed the words and actions of his detractors to stop his crusade for justice. He fought against racial segregation, army drafting, and championed nonviolent protest. Rustin eventually traveled to Alabama, working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Philip Randolph to organize The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Despite attacks from the FBI and the Senate, Rustin persisted, uniting more than 300,000 people that day in August for what Dr. King referred to as “the greatest demonstration for freedom” in American history.
Rustin went on to be featured on the cover of Life magazine and joined the Civil Rights Movement leaders as they met with President Kennedy. He assisted with the Civil Rights Act’s passing and promoted international activism across the globe, from free elections in Central America and Africa to aiding refugees. Rustin continued his activism until the day he died, even discussing the correlation between his sexuality and civil rights. “I think the gay community has a moral obligation…to do whatever is possible to encourage more and more gays to come out of the closet,” Rustin once said.
It was his work and perseverance that pushed the needle forward on many issues. Rustin passed away on August 24, 1987, just short of the 24th anniversary of The March on Washington. Below we’ve included 10 quotes, courtesy of Good Reads, from the famed civil rights organizer that are sure to inspire you to act.
“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.”
“We are indeed a house divided. But the division between race and race, class and class, will not be dissolved by massive infusions of brotherly sentiment. The division is not the result of bad sentiment, and therefore will not be healed by rhetoric. Rather the division and the bad sentiments are both reflections of vast and growing inequalities in our socioeconomic system–inequalities of wealth, of status, of education, of access to political power.”
“The only way to reduce ugliness in the world is to reduce it in yourself,”
“It occurred to me shortly after that that it was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality, because if I didn’t I was a part of the prejudice. I was aiding and abetting the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.”
“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”
“For generations the status quo has been based on violence, with the Negro as victim. A few whites have managed to be liberal without feeling a direct threat to their social position. Now, as the Negroes reach the stage where they make specific, if minimum, demands, a new and revolutionary situation has developed. There is little middle ground on which to maneuver and few compromises that are possible. For the first time, the white liberals are forced to stand for racial justice or to repudiate the liberal principles which they have always wanted to believe in.”
“The proof that one truly believes is in action.”
“The resort to stereotype is the first refuge and chief strategy of the bigot. Though this is a matter that ought to concern everyone, it should be of particular concern to Negroes. For their lives, as far back as we can remember, have been made nightmares by one kind of bigotry or another.”
“You have to join every other movement for the freedom of people.”
“I would advise those who think that self-help is the answer to familiarize themselves with the long history of such efforts in the Negro community, and to consider why so many foundered on the shoals of ghetto life. It goes without saying that any effort to combat demoralization and apathy is desirable, but we must understand that demoralization in the Negro community is largely a common-sense response to an objective reality.”
May his work not be in vain. Rest in peace, Mr. Rustin.