Bayard Rustin was an early civil rights activist and organizer, and was an advisor of Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin was also an icon for not only the black community, but the LGBTQ+ community as well.
In his youth, Rustin attended Wilberforce University and Cheyney State Teachers College. In the 1930s, Rustin moved to New York where he went to the City College of New York. There he joined the Young Communist League for their views on racial issues. He later left after the group’s focus moved to the Soviet Union.
In 1941, he partnered with Phillip Randolph and A.J Muste where they organized the March on Washington Monument. The movement was centered around the inequalities of African Americans in the military and defense industries. Their protesting prompted former president Franklin Roosevelt into issuing Executive Order 8802 that soon created the Fair Employment Practices Committee. After a few years of organizing different protests, he became an advisor for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He helped King organize non-violent protests like the boycotting of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama and most famously the march where King gave his “I have a dream” speech.
Throughout his years, Rustin had been arrested multiple times for civil disobedience and for his openness of homosexuality. In 1953 in Pasedena, California, Rustin was arrested for having sex with another man in a parked car. The account was recently pardoned on Feb. 5 in California by Governor Gavin Newsom, nearly 67 years later.
Before his death in 1987, Rustin spent the last of his years advocating for gay rights, and speaking at events and rally’s for human rights. Rustin had also published a series of books, one being ‘Down the Line and Strategies for Freedom: The Changing Patterns of Black Protest.’
Even long after his passing, Rustin continues to leave a mark on the world. In 2013, former president Barack Obama, posthumously awarded Rustin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for devoting his life to fight for the rights of others.