Bayard Rustin

Human Rights: The Central Issue of Our Time

Bayard_Rustin-2From the archives, a feature article by Bayard Rustin from the February 15, 1987 issue of Friends Journal. In August 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, with the following citation:

Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.

Readers can also learn more about Rustin in Gay, Black, and Quaker: History Catches Up with Bayard Rustin, by Stephen W. Angell and Leigh Eason in Religion Dispatches.

Bayard Rustin: Human Rights, the Central Issue of Our Time by FriendsJournal

Biography from the 1987 issue: Bayard Rustin is president of the A . Philip Randolph Educational Fund. He has been active for over 50 years in civil rights and human rights causes, most notably as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, D .C. Bayard Rustin is a member of Fifteenth Street (N. Y.) Meeting.


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3 thoughts on “Human Rights: The Central Issue of Our Time

  1. Larry Ingle says:

    City & State
    Chattanooga, Tennessee
    Friends might well celebrate the inclusion of Rustin among those receiving Presidential Medals of Freedom; he deserved it. Have there been others?

    But we should note at least three omissions from the presidential citation before our hero, like King, gets too sanitized: 1) Rustin was an active organizer for the Communist Party in upstate New York in the 1930s, 2) he resisted the draft during World War II and served time in a federal prison for doing so, and 3) toward the end of his life, he lent support to LBJ’s Vietnam War. In short, he was a complex man who certainly doesn’t need to be white‐washed.

    I can understand the current president omitting these details from Rustin’s career. It’s harder to understand how his fellow Friends could co so.

    1. Walter Naegle says:

      City & State
      New York, NY
      I think we agree that a Presidential citation can hardly be expected to include all of the details of a person’s life, and that his statements about Bayard are a fair summation of his life.

      However, I think your own statements need a response

      1) Rustin was an active organizer for the Communist Party in upstate New York in the 1930s. Yes, in the late 1930s he joined the Young Communist League, as did many people (both black and white) who were concerned about our country’s racism. They felt that neither of the mainstream political parties were sufficiently concerned about the race question. Once he discovered that the CP was more concerned about adhering to the Soviet line than in working for racial justice he left.

      3) toward the end of his life, he lent support to LBJ’s Vietnam War. Bayard never supported the Vietnam War. In fact, he was an early spokesman against it, advising Dr. King to do so long before he made his famous speech in 1967. What angered Bayard’s former colleagues in the pacifist movement was that he did not take a leading role in the anti‐war movement and would not endorse an unconditional American withdrawal as the war dragged on. He probably muted his criticism because he was more focused on Johnson’s War on Poverty and did not want to alienate the President, but he was also disillusioned by “anti‐war activists” who were supporting the Communist side rather than calling for negotiations and an end to the killing on all sides.

  2. Karie Firoozmand says:

    City & State
    Baltimore, MD
    For anyone reading this in the DC area: On Aug 25 at Friends Meeting of Washington there will be an event about Bayard Rustin. Sorry I don’t have more detail, but the FMW website is sure to.

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