In honor of Black History Month, Apicha CHC will be writing a series commemorating some of the people and legacies that continue to call us forward to keep fighting, supporting, and forging new paths in the work that we do.
These people are fundamental to our histories, relentless in their efforts to open doors that were firmly closed. We will not let these people be erased from history.
We thank you, all of you, deeply.
“I believe in social dislocation and creative trouble”
March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987
We have come to know Bayard Rustin as an incredible force in the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin was a gay man, and experienced criminalization of his sexuality, as well as a lot of hatred and bigotry from both friends and enemies of the Movement. Early in his life, Rustin started practicing Quakerism and studying Ghandi's philosphies of pacifism. He served as one of Martin Luther King Jr's closest advisors and confidants.
Click here to read OUT Magazine's feature on Rustin
The Personal is Political
Born in 1912, Bayard Rustin grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Inherited through his grandparents practice, he began practicing Quakerism at an early age and developing an interest in pacifism and practices of non-violent resistance (PBS).
When Bayard moved to NYC to attend City College in 1937, he was actively engaged in protesting racial segregation, already becoming a known name as a Civil Rights activist. In 1944, Rustin was touring the country speaking out against racial discrimination and failed to appear before his draft board and refused to accept the "alternative service" deal the court offered him. He was given a two-year sentence in prison (PBS).
Rustin never tried to hide his homosexuality as he was engaging in powerful and radical anti-racism and civil rights activism. In 1953, Rustin was arrested for 'homosexual acts,' which as his partner Naegle recounts, led him to be a little more discreet about who he was sleeping with, but he never denied his homosexuality in his personal or public life (OUT).
Being a gay, Black, political activist and radical made Bayard especially prone to discrimination, even within the organizations he was doing coalition building during the nineteen fifties, sixties and seventies. His most well-known partners were also white men, which added even more stigmatization of being in interracial relationships. But, as his legacy shows, it never once prevented him from showing up fiercely, radically, ready to work and willing to confront the many layers of his identity that people discriminated against (OUT).
In 1956, Rustin began acting as a fundamental actor in Martin Luther King's cohort, starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But, it was not long before people tried to fray their relationship, largely with vicious threats to accuse them of being gay lovers. King was given threats that suggested if he did not abandon Rustin, there would be consequential accusations. And so he did, momentarily (PBS).
It was a painful moment for Rustin and King, but it did not prevent Rustin from working alongside King in the future, most notably in organizing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This time in Rustin's life was powerful, and his work came to fruition in the life-changing form of the March on Washington. After King was murdered, Rustin was still engaged with various organizations and civil rights efforts, but definitely retreated into his private life with Naegle.
Bayard Rustin has in many ways been made invisible in many of the stories recounted during the Civil Rights Movement. But, he was a force to be reckoned with, contributing immensely to the Movement's successes and changing the course of history with his incredible, powerful work.
"Ten years after the couple met, Bayard died in August of 1987 at the age of 75, long before the couple could legally marry. But Bayard had established a legal bond between them by adopting Naegle. Since Bayard’s death, Naegle has been working with a team within the Bayard Foundation to keep his legacy alive, notably by assisting in the 2002 documentary, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin."
Robert Drayton, Out Magazine