Before 2003, Bayard Rustin was virtually unknown. Somehow, America had forgotten about the prolific activist and canny political leader.
Well, sort of.
If the story is truthfully told, Rustin and his contributions were more willfully excluded rather than forgotten about. Even during the height of Rustin’s public service career, his legacy faced repudiation. That’s a tragedy, especially considering Rustin’s tireless efforts in movements that supported the liberation and upward mobility of blacks, poor people and the LGBT community. But his erasure from history almost happened anyway, and mainly because Rustin was a proud, out gay man that suffered no qualms about his sexual identity—a very courageous act during his time.
It wasn’t until 2003 that many began to learn about Rustin thanks to a PBS documentary produced by Bennett Singer and Nancy Kates. Finally, Rustin was receiving his just due. After all, this was the man responsible for the first Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation on interstate buses. He personally advised Martin Luther King Jr. and introduced him to Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence. And in his most significant achievement, he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—one of the the largest political demonstration in U.S. history and where King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Simply put, Rustin was a genius. He did this and much more in the quest for a better world.
Rustin’s notoriety continues to rise today as more and more people become aware of his story and social justice work. In 2013, President Obama posthumously honored Rustin with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom bringing about a new wave of awareness.
Rustin changed America, and as a result, provided a powerful example, particularly for black LGBTQ citizens. We are indebted to his fearlessness.
‘Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin’ trailer
POV is now streaming Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin for a limited time. It is a must watch for anyone interested in our nation’s history. As you’ll see in the documentary, we’ve come a long way. And though we’re nowhere near the promised land, the inspiration Rustin’s life elicits will surely help move us closer.
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