Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was an early leader of the civil rights movement who often preferred to work from the shadows. Much of this was because he was also a gay man during a time when social stigma and the law had harsh consequences for gay people, and he did not want that to distract from the bigger cause of the movement. Rustin, a Quaker, was greatly influenced by the Quaker tenant of pacifism. He traveled to India to learn from Gandhi’s nonviolent civil resistance.
Throughout his civil rights career, his sexual orientation was a closely-monitored and at times untenable reality for others. While he was one of the authors of the American Friends Service Committee’s “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,” published in 1955, his name was left off the publication because of this, and he was dismissed from work with both the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference over concerns that his sexual orientation would hurt their causes. Despite this, Rustin served as an advisor to King jr. regarding Gandhian non violent tactics during the Montgomery bus boycotts, and he was instrumental in organizing the march on Washington in 1963. Rustin remained an outspoken advocate for equality and justice his whole life, working to bring the AIDS crisis to the attention of the NAACP in the late 80s, including testifying for the NY state gay rights bill the year before he died.
For today, take a minute to reflect on Rustin’s words about nonviolent resistance:
“Continuous resistance in nonviolent form breaks through the paralyzing peace which is peace for the master and misery for the mastered. Paradoxically, as it breaks the unjust social peace, its weapon of goodwill and love builds the sacred base of real brotherhood, in which the dignity and equal opportunity of every person is sacred and guaranteed.”