James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bayard Rustin, Gay Civil Rights Activist

Martin Luther King Day celebrates the birthday of the most well-known leader of the black civil rights movement. However, a long unsung hero and prominent activst of that era had been nearly written out of history up until the last decades of the 20th century. Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington was an openly gay African-American man, a draft resister, a pacifist and a one-time member of the Communist Party. He faced arrest for his political convictions and his sexual orientation and endured censure from both the outside world as well as the groups he considered his community.

Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer is an overview of his life and times. Jerald Podair begins with a chronology of important events in his career and the book is organized by time periods with a chapter at the end containing supporting articles, letters and statements by Rustin addressing a wide-range of political issues from trade-unions to Soviet Jewry to Homosexual Rights. This book is a handy resource with a host of original material and documentation.

Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, by John D'Emilio is a more in depth biography. "Based on more than a decade of archival research and interviews," it is revommended for those who want to dive more fully into the details of the turbulent life of this passionate and fascinating man.

Here is a film clip with actual footage from the civil rights struggle that includes John D'Emilio speaking and also a clip of Rustin debating Malcolm X.

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