Bayard Rustin, Openly Gay Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington

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!



Filed under Ron Buckmire

2 responses to “Bayard Rustin, Openly Gay Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington

  1. potatospud

    I personally had never heard of Bayard Rustin before this post, but now I’m going to research more about it ofcourse! I participated in an event two years ago called “Join Me On the Bridge” where a club from my school attended an event sponsored by ‘What Better Looks Like’ and ‘Women for Women International.’ During the event we crossed the Brooklyn bridge at the same time that thousands of women in other countries acround the world crossed bridges to symbolize forging into a more peaceful, less violent life for women; to make a change. It was extremely inspirational.

  2. axeptem

    I hadn’t heard about Bayard Rustin but, as a young adult, I truly believe it is essential to inspire myself from such life achievers! I was involved in demonstrations in the past, mostly peaceful and silent marches against war and violence in developing countries. However, the most recent and intense demonstration I attended was in the Middle East, at the beginning of the revolution in Bahrain, and in the middle of the “Arab Spring”. Everyone was peacefully gathered at the capital’s main roundabout in order to be heard about human rights violations in the country. It only took a day for it to turn into a violent clash between the civilians and the army. After a few days of fights, killings, and demonstrations, people were told to pretend it didn’t happened. The freedom of speech and thought I grew up with became a distant memory and I found myself in the middle of a situation where “human rights” were abstract and meaningless words spoken by Western leaders and politicians who really, weren’t changing anything in the situation of the Kingdom.
    Freedom should be a basic human right, but really, it is a privilege. And it is only by having it removed from us that we understand its value. It is also important to evaluate how much we are ready to put into jeopardy in order to keep it, or get it. Sometimes, the consequence is a deleted comment from a blog, but many other times, it is deportation, jail or death in countries where demonstrating and marching for a cause, systematically leads to such results. I am not aware of the risks I took that day when I went to that demonstration, but I profoundly believe in the fight for human rights.

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