Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

 

Bayard Rustin
was active in the struggle for human rights and economic justice for over 50
years. Born in 1912, he was reared in West Chester, Pennsylvania where he
excelled as a student, athlete and musician. He attended Wilberforce University,
Cheyney State College, the City College of New York, and the London School of
Economics, earning tuition at odd jobs and singing professionally with Josh
White’s Carolinians and Leadbelly.

A Quaker, Mr.
Rustin placed his religious convictions above his musical interests, and in 1941
began a long association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Serving as
its Race Relations Secretary, he toured 
the country conducting Race Relations Institutes designed to facilitate
communication and understanding between racial groups. He was active in A.
Philip Randolph’s March on Washington Movement, and became the first field
secretary of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1942, the FOR dispatched him to California and
the American Friends Service Committee to help protect the property of Japanese-
Americans held in detention. In 1943, Mr. Rustin was imprisoned in Lewisburg
Penitentiary as a conscientious objector.

In 1947,
Bayard Rustin took part in a demonstration to test enforcement of the 1946 Irene
Morgan case decision outlawing discrimination in interstate travel. Known as the
“Journey of Reconciliation” this protest was a model for Freedom Rides of the
1960’s. Arrested in north Carolina, he served 30 days on a chain gang. His
account of that experience, serialized in The New York Post, spurred an
investigation, which resulted in the abolition of chain gangs in North
Carolina.

Mr. Rustin
directed A. Philip Randolph’s Committee against Discrimination in the Armed
Forces, which was instrumental in securing President Truman’s order eliminating
segregation in the Armed Forces. At Mr. Randolph’s request he was granted
temporary leave from his position as Executive Secretary  of the War Resisters League, to assist
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early days of the Montgomery Alabama Bus
Boycott. His extensive background in the theory, strategies, and tactics of
nonviolent action proved invaluable and were the foundation of this close
association with Dr. King.

Mr. Rustin
organized the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957, the National Youth Marches
for Integrated Schools in 1958 and 1959, and was the Deputy Director and Chief
Organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which, at the
time, was the largest demonstration in the Nation’s history. Thought by many to
be the high point of the Civil Rights movement, the March on Washington created
the political climate for the passage of the major civil rights legislation of
the 1960’s.

In 1964
Bayard Rustin helped found the A. Philip Randolph Institute, names for his
mentor, the noted labor and civil rights activist. During that time the
Institute had 200 local affiliates involved in voter registration drives and
programs designed to strengthen relations between the black community and the
labor movement. A long-time supporter of worker’s rights, Mr. Rustin
participated in many strikes and was last arrested in 1984 while demonstrating
in support of the clerical and technical employees of Yale University. During
the mid-1960’s he participated in the formation of the Recruitment and Training
Program (R-T-P) which successfully upgraded and increased minority participation
in construction trades.

While working
to promote democracy at home, Bayard Rustin also supported human rights
struggles worldwide. In 1945 he organized the FOR’s Free India Committee which
championed India’s fight for independence from Great Britain. Following the
examples of Ghandi and Nehru, with whom he consulted during visits to India, he
was frequently arrested for protesting Britain’s colonial rule in Africa. He
consulted with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Nnamde Azikewe of Nigeria. At home he
helped organize the Committee to Support South Africa Resistance which later
became the American Committee on Africa.

Mr. Rustin had a long involvement with refugee
affairs. As a Vice Chairman o the International Rescue Committee he traveled the
world working to secure food, medical care, education, and proper resettlement
for refugees. His several visits to Southeast Asia helped to bring the plight of
the Vietnamese "boat people" to the attention of the American public. In 1980 he
took part in the international "March for Survival" on the Thai-Cambodian
border. He was Co-Chairman of the Citizens Commission on Indochinese Refugees, a
non-governmental advocacy group working to assist the refugee fleeing Vietnam
Cambodia and Laos. In 1982, he helped found the National Emergency Coalition for
Haitian Refugees, an organization, which works to protect the rights o Haitians
seeking refuge from the poverty and political chaos of their trouble homeland.

As Chairman of the Executive Committee of
Freedom House, an agency which monitors international freedom and human rights,
Mr. Rustin observed election in Zimbabwe, El Salvador, and Grenada. His last
mission abroad, coordinated b Freedom House, was to Haiti where he met with a
broad spectrum of individuals in an attempt to determine how Americans could
best help them bring democracy to their country.

In 1975, Bayard Rustin organized the Black
Americans to Support Israel Committee (BASIC). He made numerous fact-finding
visits to the Middle East and wrote many columns and articles on that troubled
area. He worked for the freedom Soviet Jews and was an early advocate for the
Ethiopian Jews in their struggle to emigrate to Israel.

In 1983, Mr. Rustin and two colleagues made a
fact-finding visit to South Africa. Their report, South Africa: Is Peaceful
Change Possible?
, led to the formation of Project South Africa, a program
which seeks to broaden Americans’ support of groups within South Africa
attempting to bring about democratic through peaceful means.

A collection of Mr. Rustin' s essays, Down
the Line
, was published in 1971. In 1976 he deliver the Radner Lecture at
Columbia University which was published under the title Strategies for
Freedom The Changing Patterns of Black Protest
.

Mr. Rustin was the recipient of numerous awards
including The Murray/Greene/Meany Award, The John LaFarge Memorial Award, and
The Stephen Wise Award. He received more than a dozen honorary doctorates.

At the time of his death in August of 1987,
Bayard Rustin was Co-Chairman of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and President
of the A. Philip Randolph Educational Fund. He was Chairman of Social Democrats
USA, was a member of the United States Holocaust memorial Council, and was a
life member of Actor' Equity. He also served on numerous boards and committees.

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