BAYARD RUSTIN THE UNKNOWN LEADER


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Ethnic Groups and Other Minorities SOC-304








12/13/2004






ABSTRACT


A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin should be best remembered as the one of the main organizers’ of the 1963 March on Washington one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence. Despite these achievements, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era. This paper is intended to focus on Rustin’s activism for peace, racial equality, economic justice and human rights. Today, the United States is still struggling with many of the issues Bayard Rustin sought to change during his long, illustrious career. His focus on civil and economic rights and his belief in peace, human rights and the dignity of all people remain as relevant today as they were in the 1950s and 60s.




For more than 50 years, Bayard Rustin was a strategist and activist in the struggle for human rights and economic justice. Born in 1912, he grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he excelled as a student, athlete and musician. While he never received his B.A., Rustin attended Wilberforce University, Cheyney State College, and the City College of New York. He earned money for tuition by working at odd jobs and singing with Josh White’s Carolinians. Raised as a Quaker, Rustin began his lifelong career as a social and political activist in 1937, when he moved to New York after completing an activist training program of the American Friends Service Committee. At City College, he became an organizer for the Young Communist League, which hired him as a youth organizer to work on the problem of racial segregation and to advocate an anti-war position. Rustin quit the League in 1941, after the Communist Party changed its organizing focus due to the war in Europe. He began to work with A. Philip Randolph, president of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the premier black trade union. Simultaneously, he began a long association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Serving as its Race Relations Secretary, he toured the country conducting Race Relations Institutes designed to facilitate communication and understanding among racial groups. He was active in Randolph’s March on Washington Movement, and became the first field secretary of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1942 he was dispatched to California by the FOR and the American Friends Service Committee to help protect the property of Japanese-Americans imprisoned in internment camps. During this time he also became acquainted with Norman Thomas, a leader in the democratic socialist movement in America. Rustin remained a democratic socialist throughout his life, and became staunchly anti-Communist after his disillusionment with the party.

As a committed pacifist, Rustin refused to register for the draft, and also declined to perform alternative service in one of the Civilian Public Service camps set up for Quakers and other religious pacifists. He served three years in federal penitentiary, beginning in 1943, as a way of protesting the war. In 1947, under the auspices of the FOR and CORE, Bayard Rustin helped plan the first "freedom ride" in the South, challenging Jim Crow practices that had been made illegal by a 1946 Supreme Court decision outlawing discrimination in interstate travel. Known as the Journey of Reconciliation, riders engaged in direct protest by intentionally violating the segregated seating patterns on Southern buses and trains. Along the way, they were beaten, arrested and fined. Arrested in North Carolina, Rustin served 22 days on a chain gang. His account of that experience, serialized in The New York Post, spurred an investigation that contributed to the abolition of chain gangs in North Carolina. The Journey was the prototype for the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s. In the late 1940s, Mr. Rustin was instrumental in securing President Truman’s order eliminating segregation in the armed forces. While working to promote democracy at home, Bayard Rustin also supported human rights struggles worldwide. In 1945 he organized the FOR’s Free India Committee, which championed India\'s fight for independence from Great Britain. Following the example of