Bayard Rustin (17 March 1912- 24 August 1987) was a social and civil rights activist. However unlike many civil rights activists and advocates of the time, Rustin believed in a pacific combination of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, African-American socialism and the peaceful culture and staidness that formed such a big part of the Quaker belief system.
This is evinced by the fact that Rustin was actually a central figure where Martin Luther’s 1963 ‘I have A Dream’ speech- one of the most iconic civil rights speeches in the world, is concerned. Not only did he attend this speech but he was also involved with Martin Luther King where the Ride to Freedom Challenge in 1947 is concerned. The challenge took place in order to reverse the legalized racial segregation that commonly took place on American buses in the 50s.
Other than that, Rustin was also a strong advocate of homosexuality which at the time was not just condemned in terms of the physical act; the very subject was taboo in the 1950s with gays being referred to as ‘sexual deviants’. Against this backdrop of homophobia and the onslaught of so-called ‘educational’ videos that promoted the criminalization of homosexuals, broke forth Rustin’s ideas.
Where Martin Luther King was at one point was at one point, fearful of being implicated in a sexual scandal with Rustin, Rustin simply declared that it was time to quit running away from things and deal with them head-on; a bold statement in the mid-twentieth century when most psychiatrists still referred to homosexuality as a mental illness.
Rustin also believed that the time had arisen for the empowerment of the African-American and that the right way to do so was to involve the native African-American in the practices of the labor party which would also explain the march he took part in, in England in 1963.
The 1950s was the time when the empowerment of not just black people, but African-Americans also began. As the champion of minorities’ rights, Rustin stated that they were now in an era where African-American rights involved politics, rather than being considered a taboo or a disturbing subject. As such, Rustin argued that the best way the average African-American could improve his chances of employment and equal rights was by joining the popular Labor Movement of the time.
As part of his beliefs in the liberation of the African-America, Rustin protested against colonialism in both Africa and America, arguing that colonialism stripped the locals of the freedom to do or think as they please. For engaging in such behavior, Rustin was sentenced to prison from 1944-1946. However he continued to stir more trouble when he went on to not just being openly gay, but declaring that it was a shame that the idea of segregated dining facilities still prevailed in prisons.
Rustin was soon released in 1946, despite the additional black mark on his record, however he was soon jailed again as he waged war on the concept of colonialism yet again. Once more, local authorities and the British government had Rustin jailed for daring to look down on colonialism and it’s implications.
So far as Rustin’s beliefs on non-violence were concerned, he was a member of the American Friends Service Committees which were dedicated to promoting Rustins’ ideology of pacifism. It was during this time then that Rustin started to write his ‘Speak Truth to Power. A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence’. It was published in 1955 and became one of the best essays on the promotion of peace at the time.
In fact, Rustin was so caught up in the idea of non-violence that when dissenters began to attack Martin Luther for his anti-segregration views, Rustin attempted to convince King that there was a simpler way to fight back as opposed to being surrounded by guards for protection.
Such was the simple philosophy of the one of the unknown advocates of civil rights in the 1950; peace, equal rights for all and the lack of judgmental morality clouding one’s perspective of the world.