Note: In this new column we will
attempt to shed light on people who did
positive things for their people and the
communities they represented and more!
These will be people some have heard and
others some haven't heard..
Rustin ( March 17, 1912 – August
24, 1987) was an African-American civil
rights activist, important largely behind
the scenes in the civil rights movement
of the 1960s and earlier and principal
organizer of the 1963 March on Washington
for Jobs and Freedom. He counseled Martin
Luther King, Jr. on the techniques of
nonviolent resistance. Rustin was openly
gay and advocated on behalf of gay and
lesbian causes in the latter part of his
was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
He was raised by his maternal grandparents.
Rustin's grandmother, Julia, was a Quaker,
though she attended her husband's A.M.E.
Church. She was also a member of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP). NAACP leaders such as
W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson
were frequent guests in the Rustin home.
With these influences in his early life,
Rustin campaigned against racially discriminatory
Jim Crow laws in his youth.
In 1932, Rustin entered Wilberforce University,
but left in 1936 before taking his final
exams. He also attended Cheyney State
Teachers College, now called Cheyney University
of Pennsylvania. After completing an activist
training program conducted by the American
Friends Service Committee, Rustin moved
to Harlem in 1937 and began studying at
City College of New York. There he became
involved in efforts to free the Scottsboro
Boys — nine young black men who
had been accused falsely of raping two
white women. He also became a member of
the Young Communist League in 1936.
Communist Party USA (CPUSA) was originally
a strong supporter of the civil rights
movement, but in 1941, after Germany invaded
the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin ordered
the CPUSA to abandon civil rights work
and focus on support for U.S. involvement
in World War II. Disillusioned by this
betrayal, Rustin began working with anti-Communist
Socialists such as A. Philip Randolph,
the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping
Car Porters, and A. J. Muste, leader of
the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).
The three of them proposed a march on
Washington to protest racial discrimination
in the armed forces, but the march was
canceled after President Franklin D. Roosevelt
issued Executive Order 8802 (the Fair
Employment Act), which banned discrimination
in defense industries and federal bureaus.
Rustin also went to California to protect
the property of Japanese-Americans imprisoned
in internment camps. Impressed with Rustin's
organizational skills, Muste appointed
him as FOR's secretary for student and
In 1942, Rustin assisted two other staffers
of FOR, George Houser and James L. Farmer,
Jr., and a third activist, Berniece Fisher
as they formed the Congress of Racial
Equality (CORE). Rustin was not a direct
founder but was "an uncle of CORE,"
Farmer and Houser said later. CORE was
conceived as a pacifist organization based
on the writings of Henry David Thoreau
and modeled after Mohandas Gandhi's non-violent
resistance against British rule in India.
As pacifists, Rustin, Houser, and other
members of FOR and CORE were arrested
for violating the Selective Service Act.
From 1944 to 1946, Rustin was imprisoned
in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, where
he organized protests against segregated
dining facilities. During his incarceration,
Rustin also organized FOR's Free India
Committee. After his release from prison,
he was frequently arrested for protesting
against British rule in India and Africa.
and Houser organized the Journey of Reconciliation
in 1947. This was the first of the Freedom
Rides to test the ruling of the Supreme
Court of the United States that banned
racial discrimination in interstate travel.
CORE's Gandhian tactics were opposed strenuously
by the NAACP, and participants in the
Journey of Reconciliation were arrested
several times. Arrested with Jewish activist
Igal Roodenko, Rustin served thirty days
on a chain gang in North Carolina for
violating Jim Crow laws regarding segregated
seating on public transportation.
In 1948, Rustin traveled to India to learn
nonviolence techniques directly from the
leaders of the Gandhian movement at a
conference that was organized by Gandhi
himself before he died earlier that year.
Between 1947 and 1952, Rustin met with
leaders of Ghana's and Nigeria's independence
movements and, in 1951, he formed the
Committee to Support South African Resistance,
which later became the American Committee
on Africa. In 1953, Rustin was arrested
in Pasadena, California; originally charged
with vagrancy and lewd conduct, he eventually
pleaded guilty to a single, lesser charge
of "sex perversion" (as consensual
sodomy was officially referred to in California
at the time) and served 60 days in jail.
This was the first time that his homosexuality
had come to public attention, yet he remained
candid about his sexuality, which was
still criminalized throughout the United
States. After his conviction, he was fired
from FOR, though he became the executive
secretary of the War Resisters League.
Rustin took leave from the War Resisters
League in 1956 to advise Martin Luther
King Jr., on Gandhian tactics as King
organized the public transportation boycott
in Montgomery, Alabama known as the Montgomery
Bus Boycott. The following year, Rustin
and King began organizing the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Many African-American leaders were concerned
that Rustin's open homosexuality and Communist
past would undermine support for the civil
rights movement. U.S. Representative Adam
Clayton Powell, Jr. forced Rustin's resignation
from the SCLC in 1960 by threatening to
discuss Rustin's morals charge in Congress.
Although Rustin was open about his homosexuality
and his conviction was a matter of public
record, it had not been discussed widely
outside the civil rights leadership.
When Rustin and Randolph organized the
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
in 1963, Senator Strom Thurmond railed
against Rustin as a "Communist, draft-dodger,
and homosexual" and produced an FBI
photograph of Rustin talking to King while
King was bathing, to imply that there
was a homosexual relationship between
the two. Both men denied the allegation
of an affair, but despite King's support,
NAACP chairman Roy Wilkins did not allow
Rustin to receive any public recognition
for his role in planning the march.
After passage of the 1964 Civil Rights
Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, Rustin
advocated closer ties between the civil
rights movement and the Democratic Party
and its labor activist base. Rustin was
an early supporter of President Lyndon
Johnson's Vietnam policy, but as the war
escalated and began to supersede Democratic
programs for racial reconciliation and
labor reform, Rustin returned to his pacifist
roots. Still, he was seen as a "sell-out"
by the burgeoning Black Power movement,
whose identity politics he rejected.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin
worked as a human rights and election
monitor for Freedom House. He also testified
on behalf of New York State's Gay Rights
Bill and, in 1986, claimed that the gay
and lesbian community had become the "barometer"
of human rights because it is "the
community which is most easily mistreated."
He also urged gay and lesbian organizations
to stand up for all minorities.
Rustin died on August 24, 1987, of a perforated
appendix. He is survived by his partner
of ten years, Walter Naegle, who is his
executor and chief archivist.
Rustin also worked for New York State's
gay rights bill.
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