LGBT People of History 83 - Bayard Rustin
Bayard Rustin was a true pioneer of universal rights. He was black and gay in an era and area where and when racial segregation and the criminalisation of homosexuality were the norm.
Bayard Rustin (1912 – 1987) was born in Pennsylvania and brought up by his grandparents, who were involved in battling racial discrimination. He attended Wilberforce University and Cheney State Teachers College on music scholarships before moving to Harlem in 1937. He was by now an activist and was involved with the Communist Party.
In his lifetime he was known for his pioneering work on civil rights, pacifism, non-violence, socialism and gay rights. In 1947 he was involved in an early movement to challenge racial segregation in buses. Bayard was personally influenced by Ghandi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance. He was also an organiser of the ‘Southern Christian Leadership Conference’ and was instrumental in strengthening Martin Luther King Jr’s leadership.
Later he became indispensable to the civil rights movement by, for example, organising the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ in 1963. He was a mentor of young activists like Tom Kahn and Stokely Carmichael.
When the civil rights legislation was finally passed in the mid-60s, he concentrated on gaining equal rights for African Americans in the workplace, trying to bring together the unionisation of white and black workers. He campaigned for the rights of poor and unemployed black people.
In the 70s and 80s he became a humanitarian aiding refugees from places such as Vietnam and Cambodia.
Bayard was a gay man and even as late as 2003 homosexuality was criminal in parts of the US! In 1953 he was arrested for a so-called criminal ‘homosexual act’. Even some of his fellow pacifists and civil rights found this an embarrassment and criticised him. Of course, the segregationists and stupid people like them attacked him with phrases like ‘pervert’ etc. Because of the fact he was gay and had committed this ‘offence’, he rarely spoke publicly so such ‘attacks’ could be avoided and would be ‘behind the scenes’ in an advisory role. Later, in the 70s, he did become a campaigner for lesbian and gay rights
He died in 1987 of a perforated appendix at the age of 75.
Ian and Callum
With thanks to Wikipedia.
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