Bayard Rustin was the primary organizer responsible for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice which was held 50 years today. The march is considered one of the most important moments in the civil rights struggle for racial equality and the fact that an openly gay man was key in its organization and efficient execution is worth noting, but often has not been.
President Barack Obama recently announced he is awarding Rustin (posthumously) the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Secretary of Labor Tom Perez is also doing his part to acknowledge Rustin:
I feel compelled, as secretary of labor, to pay tribute to him as well. My very first day on the job last month, I toured our department’s Hall of Honor to see the heroic Americans enshrined there – Frances Perkins, A. Philip Randolph, Cesar Chavez and others. But where was Bayard Rustin?
He was one of our most tenacious fighters for the rights of workers, for collective bargaining, for the role unions play in expanding economic opportunity. The 1963 March on Washington that he organized – the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” as we all know, was the full name – was conceived as a demonstration against economic injustice. He understood as well as anyone that these two movements – civil rights and labor rights – are inextricably intertwined and their goals essentially the same.
So, I am correcting a longstanding oversight by formally inducting Bayard Rustin into the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor.
Rustin was an openly gay man during a time of fear and intolerance. There was no Human Rights Campaign. There was no Pride Month. There was no “It Gets Better” campaign featuring some of the most visible public figures in America. Nope, “it gets better” was just something you had to believe when you told it to yourself.
This is great news! How many of you had heard of Bayard Rustin and knew his story? Students, feel free to give your answers in the comments, and share your thoughts about this historic day in civil rights. Have any of you ever attended a march or demonstration for a cause that you believe in? Discuss!