A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

From Protest to Politics (1965)

Bayard Rustin

A longtime advocate of nonviolent protest, Bayard Rustin took part in a 1947 effort to desegregate interstate bus facilities in the South, became a principal advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Montgomery bus boycott, and played a major role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington. By the mid-1960s, however, his path had diverged sharply from that of the more militant black protest leaders. He believed that the realization of true equality for African Americans depended on their remaining part of the broad liberal coalition that had given Lyndon Johnson his landslide victory in 1964. And he feared that black campaigns of disruptive civil disobedience and militant criticism of white leaders would only alienate necessary allies in the labor movement, Congress, and the White House. In the following selection, a 1965 plea for African Americans to turn from protest to politics, Rustin prophesied that despite civil rights victories, the plight of many African Americans would worsen unless a black-and-white progressive force transformed the nation’s most fundamental social, economic, and political institutions.

The decade spanned by the 1954 Supreme Court decision on school desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will undoubtedly be recorded as the period in which the legal foundations of racism in America were destroyed. To be sure, pockets of resistance remain; but it would be hard to quarrel with the assertion that the elaborate legal structure of segregation and discrimination, particularly in relation to public accommodations, has virtually collapsed. On the other hand, without making light of the human sacrifices involved in the direct-action tactics (sit-ins, freedom rides, and the rest) that were so instrumental to this achievement, we must recognize that in desegregating public accommodations, we affected institutions which are

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