Bayard Rustin on MLK, 1969

“April 4, 1969 will mark the first anniversary of the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I can think of no better way to observe that Good Friday than to reflect on the meaning of Dr. King’s life and his death, and to rededicate ourselves to the continuation of his work. Dr. King’s philosophy and life’s work were guided by his adherence to the three great principles of nonviolence, democracy, and integration. These principles gave him spiritual courage as well as political direction in the battles of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma and throughout the struggle to integrate public accommodations and abolish Jim Crow. And they also led him to the great insight which was symbolized by the new direction he was moving in at the time of his death. For we must never forget that Dr. King died in a labor struggle. He died in the midst of an effort to organize the Memphis sanitation workers and to win for them union recognition and collective bargaining rights.”

Bayard Rustin, 1969.

(Born in West Chester on March 17, 1912, Rustin became one of King’s closest associates and was chief planner of the famed “I have a Dream” march, more formally March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963)


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Concience of the Nation

by dianeravitch, 1/16/17

I was never fortunate enough to meet Dr. King, but I was a member of the vast crowd that stood on the Mall when he spoke to the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. I became a good friend of his close aide Bayard Rustin, who like Dr. King, was eloquent and passionate about justice.

Dr. King was frequently criticized by friends and foes. The foes thought he was a dangerous agitator who was encouraging rebellion against the social order, which he was. Moderates said he was pushing too hard, too fast, for too much, at the wrong time and the wrong place. Some who should have been his friends said he wasn’t sufficiently radical; they said he was too cerebral, too willing to compromise, out of touch with the masses that were ready to engage in violence. Dr. King believed in nonviolence as a principle, not as a strategy. He believed in justice and equality as principles, not as temporary goals. Some of his erstwhile allies turned to Malcolm X, who did not share Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence.

On this day set aside to remember Dr. King, read or watch one of his speeches. Think about the courage it required to stand up for the oppressed, to face death every day, and to do so in a spirit of love….

Read more and see links to many MLK speeches at dianeravitch. Note praise of West Chester Native Bayard Rustin above.

Bayard Rustin’s 104th birthday


Today is Bayard Rustin’s 104th birthday. A Black, gay, nonviolent activist, and an influential strategist/tactician, Bayard began as a radical outsider, yet received a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2013. Since his death in 1987, he has become more widely known than during his lifetime, and his journey continues to influence new generations of activists. Bennett and Walter were reminded of Bayard’s evolution when they met with Sir Adam Roberts, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, on his recent visit here to address the Ralph Bunche Institute. As a young man, Sir Adam — an editor of the new book Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring (Oxford University Press) — was a colleague of Bayard’s in the anti-nuclear weapons campaign in England. Citing his being knighted in 2002 and Bayard’s Medal of Freedom in 2013, he chuckled, “What would Bayard think of all this?”

A recent New Yorker article by Jelani Cobb on the Black Lives Matter movement prompted Kelly McEvers of National Public Radio to interview Cobb, who said: “Movements tend to pick up where the last one left off. When people look back at the civil rights movement, one of the most glaring shortcomings that emerges is in many ways the marginalization of women within the movement or things like Bayard Rustin, who was the pivotal organizer of the March on Washington but also faced discrimination as a gay black man. Those are the things that Black Lives Matter looks at and says, ‘We want to not replicate those things. We want to not replicate the errors of the past.’” Continue reading

Bayard Rustin a Medal of Freedom honoree

By Jeremy Gerrard, Daily Local News, 11/21/13

The borough of West Chester was represented Wednesday at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, where borough native Bayard Rustin was one of 16 individuals honored this year.

West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta was invited to be a guest at the ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

“It was really amazing and unbelievably remarkable on so many levels,” Comitta said.

According to White House officials, the Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, “presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

White House officials said this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the medal. Since the inaugural class of 31 recipients, more than 500 individuals have been awarded the honor.

President Barack Obama read brief biographies of the recipients before any were awarded Wednesday. During this time, Comitta said the audience remained quiet to hear the bios, though some spontaneous applause erupted during the president’s remarks on Rustin.

“I thought that was very moving and touching,” Comitta said.

Other recipients of the honor were former president Bill Clinton; broadcaster Oprah Winfrey; former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar; women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem; baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks; Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman; country music singer Loretta Lynn; Nobel Prize laureate Maria Molina; jazz musician Arturo Sandoval; former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith; former U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Patricia Wald; and civil rights leader and minister C.T. Vivian.

Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and astronaut Sally Ride were honored posthumously.

At the ceremony, Rustin was described as “a giant in the American Civil Rights movement. Openly gay at a time when many had to hide who they loved, his unwavering belief that we are all equal members of a single human family took him from his first freedom ride to the LGBT rights movement. Thanks to his unparalleled skills as an organizer, progress that once seemed impossible, appears in retrospect, to have been inevitable.”

Walter Nagle, Rustin’s partner, accepted the award on his behalf.

Comitta and Borough Council commemorated Rustin’s legacy and his posthumous reception of the medal in August. …

keep reading at Daily Local News

Mayor invited to White House to honor Bayard Rustin!

email from Mayor Comitta, 11/18/13

I am honored to have been invited by President and Mrs. Obama to the White House for the Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony and Reception on November 20th.

West Chester’s own Bayard Rustin is one of the recipients of the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed in our country. When the announcement was made in August, we held a celebration at Borough Hall on August 21st. Please see the Mayor’s citation from that event below (click to enlarge). The citation includes some background information about Bayard Rustin, his important civil and human rights work, and some information about his roots in West Chester.

Bayard Rustin’s vision and tireless work toward equality and justice for all is critical work each of us must continue today and always in West Chester and across our country and the world.

Best regards,

Carolyn T. Comitta
Mayor of West Chester


Bayard Rustin’s civil rights legacy

by Mchael P. Rellahan, Daily Local News, 8/24/13

His work helped galvanize MLK’s ideals in Chester County

WEST CHESTER — Without the supreme eloquence of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March of Washington, D.C. — the 50th anniversary of which will occur Wednesday — the course of the civil rights movement in America might have been very different.

But without the tremendously successful organization of that event by Bayard Rustin, a behind-the-scenes worker known for bringing disparate groups together in common purpose, King’s speech might have fallen on fewer ears — or worse, been lost in a sea of criticism and recrimination over its disarray.

But even more than that, without the unique world of the West Chester that Rustin grew up in the first half of the 20th century — with its strange dichotomy of Quaker influence and Southern, Jim Crow-like racial segregation — he himself might not have held the burning desire to fight for equality in the country of his birth.

Or so say those who knew Rustin and his work, and who have championed his memory as one of the foremost figures in the history of the civil rights movement, among the most challenging of historical eras in the United States. Last week, some of those took time to discuss Rustin — his life, his work, and his legacy, with the Daily Local News.

“He was energized by people who were left out of our social order for no other reason than that they were considered unfit,” said C. James Trotman, a professor emeritus at West Chester University and founder of the Frederick Douglass Institute there. “That, he would not tolerate.”

Trotman agreed that the confluence of Quaker beliefs and first-hand experience with segregation led Rustin, who died in 1987 at the age of 75 in New York City, down the path his life took on the way to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as it was formally known.

As the architect of the march, Rustin saw to it that those attending had ways to get there, places to stay, food to eat, and that the area at the Lincoln Memorial was clean and spotless afterward. If there had been problems, the fight of legislation would have been made more difficult, Trotman said….

read more at Daily Local News

Bayard Rustin: the gay black pacifist at the heart of the March on Washington

by Gary Younge, The Guardian, 8/23/13

Though he was chief strategist for King’s march, Rustin was kept in the background as some organizers considered him a liability. He died in 1987, and is sometimes forgotten in civil rights history

When civil rights leaders met at the Roosevelt Hotel in Harlem in early July 1963 to hammer out the ground rules by which they would work together to organise the March on Washington there was really only one main sticking point: Bayard Rustin.

Rustin, a formidable organiser and central figure in the civil rights movement, was a complex and compelling figure. Raised a Quaker, his political development would take him through pacifism, communism, socialism and into the civil rights movement in dramatic fashion. In 1944, after refusing to fight in World War Two, he had been jailed as a conscientious objector. It was primarily through him that the leadership would adopt non-violent direct action not only as a strategy but a principle. “The only weapons we have is our bodies,” he once said. “And we have to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.”

Rustin was also openly gay, an attribute which was regarded as a liability in the early sixties in a movement dominated by clerics. His position became particularly vulnerable following his arrest in Pasadena, in 1953, when he was caught having sex with two men in a parked car. Charged with lewd vagrancy he plead out to a lesser ‘morals charge’ and was sent to jail for 60 days.

Some in the room that day believed all this made him too great a liability to be associated with such a high profile event. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, was candid. “I don’t want you leading that march on Washington, because you know I don’t give a damn about what they say, but publicly I don’t want to have to defend the draft dodging,” he said. “I know you’re a Quaker, but that’s not what I’ll have to defend. I’ll have to defend draft dodging. I’ll have to defend promiscuity. The question is never going to be homosexuality, it’s going to be promiscuity and I can’t defend that. And the fact is that you were a member of the Young Communist League. And I don’t care what you say, I can’t defend that.”

Wilkins did not get his way. Rustin would lead the march and do so brilliantly while Wilkins would be called upon to defend him and do so. Fifty years on the White House has announced that Bayard Rustin will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. The award marks the end of a journey for Rustin, who died in 1987: from marginalisation in both life and history to mainstream official accolade just in time for the 50th anniversary of arguably his crowning achievement – organising the march on Washington….

read more and see many links at The Guardian

Black, Gay and a Pacifist: Bayard Rustin Remembered For Role in March on Washington, Mentoring MLK

Democracy Now!, 8/12/13

The White House has announced it will posthumously award the highest civilian award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to the trailblazing civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. Obama will honor Rustin and 15 others, including President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and baseball great Ernie Banks, at the White House later this year. Rustin was a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and introduced him to Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence. Rustin helped King start the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Six years later, he was the chief organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, rallying hundreds of thousands of people for economic justice, full employment, voting rights and equal opportunity. “Rustin was one of the most important social justice activists in the U.S. in the 20th century,” says John D’Emilio, author of “Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin.” “Rustin pioneered the use of Gandhian nonviolence as a way of calling attention to segregation and other forms of racism in the United States.” We also speak to former NAACP chair Julian Bond and Rustin’s partner, Walter Naegle.

read the full transcript at Democracy Now!

…AMY GOODMAN: Early in his life, Bayard Rustin challenged segregation, as you talked about, and racism; in high school, arrested for refusing to sit in a West Chester movie theater segregated balcony. In this clip from the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, which just aired last night on LIW’s World Channel, Rustin recollects how he responded to racism.

BAYARD RUSTIN: I once went into the little restaurant next to the Warner Theatre, and—can you believe it?—there was absolute consternation. That was the first occasion in which I knew West Chester had three police cars. They surrounded the place as if we were going to destroy motherhood. I purposely got arrested, and then I made an appeal that all the black people and white people who were decent-minded should give 10 cents to get me out of jail. And I got out, because they took up a collection….

Bayard Rustin’s Legacy: West Chester’s Civil Rights Hero

BY J. F. PIRRO, Main Line Today, 7/19/13

An integral part of the Civil Rights Movement and the march on Washington, Bayard Rustin and his influence is remembered by West Chester’s Bill Scott.

“Martin Luther King may have told us about his dream, but Bayard Rustin built the platform on which King stood.”

From an early age, Bill Scott was “hooked on Kennedy,” even attending JFK’s inauguration on his own at 15. Sympathetic with the Civil Rights Movement, the Conestoga High School graduate and Rutgers University student set out from home on Aug. 28, 1963, on a Presbyterian Interracial Council bus headed to the March on Washington.

Once Scott’s bus crossed the Maryland line, it joined a sea of others. “Going down, it was a mixed crowd, but mostly what we would’ve called colored folks or Negroes. We didn’t have the word black then,” recalls Scott, a onetime West Chester borough councilman who is now 68. “At one pit stop, someone said, ‘What if they don’t let us in?’ Another said, ‘Not today.’ There was no belligerence—just confidence. Everyone was cheerful, upbeat and excited. They understood that this was a significant thing.”…

As soon as he got there, Scott left his bus group and “weaseled” his way up front. He was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for King’s speech and other festivities, including performances by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. The 18-year-old college sophomore used his 35 mm Zeiss Ikon camera (a gift to his father after 35 years of service at Gulf Oil) to shoot 24 high-quality pictures. “I’m not saying that I could touch King, but I was within 15 feet,” he says. “When he spoke about having his dream, I was right there.”

After King spoke, Scott went to shake his hand, but the two sergeants at arms (on either side of King in every image from that day) made it clear that no one was to touch King. “[Bayard] Rustin was there, and he was getting a lot of hype,” says Scott. “I remember my dad telling me that he was from West Chester, just down the road from us. He was jumping all around. He was all over the place. He was palpably in charge. Martin Luther King may have told us about his dream, but Bayard Rustin built the platform on which King stood.”….

see the whole article and photos at Main Line Today. Photo by Bill Scott, 8/28/63:

Rustin by Scott 8-28-63