Rustin, Bayard

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Rustin, Bayard

Bayard Rustin, 1910–87, African-American civil-rights leader, b. West Chester, Pa. He attended three colleges but did not obtain a degree. A Quaker, he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector for more than two years during World War II. Devoting much of his early career to pacifist activities, he was (1941–53) on the staff of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and headed (1953–55) the War Resisters League. In the early 1940s, Rustin also founded the New York branch of the Congress of Racial Equality, and he soon became a key figure in the struggle for African-American civil rights. As special assistant (1955–60) to Martin Luther King, Jr., he helped set up the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and, more generally, played an influential role in infusing King's movement with the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence (see Gandhi, Mohandas. Later, working in association with A. Philip Randolph, Rustin was the chief organizer of the massive 1963 March on Washington. From 1964 to 1987 he served as president of the Randolph Institute, a trade-union, educational, and civil-rights group. An openly gay man in a largely homophobic era, Rustin was usually obliged to employ his superb organizational and strategic skills behind the scenes.

See his collected writings in Down the Line (1971) and Time on Two Crosses (2003), ed. by D. W. Carbado and D. Weise; biographies by J. Anderson (1997) and J. D'Emilio (2003); studies by N. Dobrosky (1988), J. Haskins (1997), and D. Levine (1999); N. D. Kates and B. Singer, dir., Brother Outsider (documentary film, 2003).

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