Bayard Rustin: An Annotated Bio-Bibliography

Article excerpt

Bayard Rustin: An Annotated Bio-bibliography

Although Bayard Rustin was one of the most important leaders of the American civil rights movement from the advent of its modern period in the 1950s until well into the 1980s, his name was seldom mentioned; he received comparatively little press or media attention, and others' names were usually much more readily associated with the movement than was his. His was a behind-the-scenes role that, for all its importance, never garnered Rustin the public acclaim he deserved. Rustin's homosexuality and early communist affiliation probably meant that the importance of his contribution to the civil rights and peace movements would never be acknowledged. However, fairness demands that the extent of Rustin's work receive a fair public reception.

Bayard Taylor Rustin was born on March 17, 1912, to Florence Rustin, one of eight children of Julia and Janifer Rustin of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Florence's child had been born out of wedlock; the father was Archie Hopkins. Julia and Janifer decided to raise young Bayard as their son, the youngest of the large Rustin family. Julia Rustin had been raised a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), and even though she attended the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the denomination of her husband, she impressed on the children she raised certain Quaker principles: the equality of all human beings before God, the vital need for nonviolence, and the importance of dealing with everyone with love and respect.

Rustin was a gifted and successful student in the schools of West Chester, both academically and on his high school track and football teams. It was during this period of his life that Bayard began to demonstrate his gift for singing with a beautiful tenor voice. He attended Wilberforce University and Cheyney State Teachers College. In 1937 he moved to New York City, where he was to live the rest of his life. He enrolled in the City College of New York, although he never received a degree. It was at this time that Rustin began to organize for the Young Communist League of City College. The communists' progressive stance on the issue of racial injustice appealed to him, although he began to be disillusioned with them after the Communist Party's abrupt about-face on the issue of segregation in the American military in the wake of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. He broke with the Young Communist League and soon found himself seeking out A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and at that time the leading articulator of the rights of Afro-Americans. He soon headed the youth wing of a march on Washington that Randolph envisioned. Randolph called off the demonstration when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802, forbidding racial discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries. Randolph's calling off of the projected march caused a temporary breach between him and Bayard Rustin, and Rustin transferred his organizing efforts to the peace movement, first in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and later in the American Friends Service Committee, the Socialist Party, and the War Resisters League.

Although as a member of one of the government-recognized "peace churches" (he had been a member of the Manhattan Friends' Meeting since shortly after moving to New York) he was entitled to do alternative service rather than serve in the armed services, Rustin found himself unable to accept this "easy way out," given the fact that many young men who were not members of the recognized peace churches were receiving harsh prison sentences for refusing to serve. In 1944, Rustin was found guilty of violating the Selective Service Act and was sentenced to three years in a federal prison. In March 1944, Rustin was sent to the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky. He then set about to resist the pervasive segregation, then the norm, in prisons in the United States. Although faced with vicious racism from some of the prison guards and white prisoners, Rustin faced frequent cruelty with courage and completely nonviolent resistance. …