Bayard Rustin

(1912–1987)

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Bayard Rustin (1912–1987) was a human rights activist known for his work during the Civil Rights Movement

Rustin was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest advisors, especially on techniques of nonviolent resistance. Rustin was extremely active in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and helped to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). 

Early in his career, he was arrested for “moral cause” which led to his outing to the public. However, once outed, Rustin was completely open about his sexuality and was never ashamed. Criticism and discrimination over his sexuality led Rustin to have a more background role in the Civil Rights Movement. He never wanted his sexuality to have a negative effect on the Movement, which is often the reason that Rustin’s efforts are not widely known.

Selma March, 1965. Photograph by Steve Schapiro.

Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph listening to a speech on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, at the end of the Selma to Montgomer Marches. 

2012.107.35

© Steve Schapiro

From 1965–1979, Rustin served as the head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the AFL-CIO's African American constituency group. Serving alongside A. Philip Randolph until his passing in 1979, Rustin worked to integrate unions and promote unions among African Americans. 

Rustin served on several humanitarian missions to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Haiti during the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1980s, he became a part of the LGBTQ+ movement and an advocate for AIDS education. In a 1986 testimony on behalf of New York State's Gay Rights Bill, Rustin stated that “gay people are the new barometer for social change.” He felt that injustice everywhere should not be tolerated and must be protested. He died August 26, 1987, as a result of a perforated appendix.

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