Black History Month is observed every February to commemorate the important people and momentous events in African-American history. Hotspots honors Black History Month by profiling black LGBT people who have made noteworthy achievements in their personal or professional lives.
(March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987)
Bayard Rustin was born on March 17, 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In his youth his parents were personal friends of civil rights leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois, and it was those leaders who inspired him to work to repeal discriminatory laws against black people. By 1937, he moved to Harlem, where he would live for the next 50 years. Over the next decade, Rustin worked on behalf of the rights of sleeping car porters, blacks in the U.S. military, and Japanese Americans who were imprisoned by the U.S. government in internment camps.
By 1947, he started to organize tests to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned discrimination in interstate travel, organizing the very first freedom rides through four Southern states. Over the next decade, he visited India, Nigeria and Ghana to take notes from their leaders on how to achieve equality through nonviolent means. He used the information he learned in India to counsel Dr. Martin Luther King, who by that time was organizing the boycott on city buses in Birmingham, Alabama.
One of Rustin’s crowning achievements was his work in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He was profiled on the cover of Life Magazine for his work. In the mid-1960s, when black people benefited greatly from the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, Rustin changed his work from social activism to political lobbying. He returned to the labor movement after a three-decade absence, where he helped improve the economic situations of both white and black Americans. He became the leader of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in 1965. He was also an election monitor for Freedom House in the 1970s and 1980s.
Rustin was openly gay, and was arrested on a morals charge in California in 1953. Many white politicians tried to use this ammunition against him during his work in the civil rights movement, so much of his work was done behind the scenes. He was most celebrated for introducing Dr. Martin Luther King to the nonviolence movement and convincing him to give up his guns for protection. At the end of his life, Rustin was able to speak freely on gay rights issues and gave testimony on the New York Gay Rights Bill in 1986. He died on August 24, 1987 at the age of 75. He was survived by his partner, Walter Naegle.