If you are like most people in the U.S. you probably do not know who Bayard Rustin was, nor how profoundly he influenced the civil rights movement. The same histories that erased his contributions exaggerated Martin Luther King Jr.'s role as the architect of Montgomery bus boycott and recast Rosa Parks as an otherwise unremarkable lady whose fabled act of defiance was prompted by weary feet.
Rustin no less than any other agent of his era, including King himself, was indispensable to the greatest successes of the movement and the development of its earlier, more vulnerable stages.
During the forties, he participated in direct actions that prefigured the signature efforts that would define the movements' peak. As a protégé of preeminent labor leader A. Phillip Randolph, he helped plan a march on Washington, D.C. (which Randolph called off) on protesting segregation in the armed forces.
In 1946, he participated in a campaign of interracial freedom rides in the South and subsequently worked on pacifist coalitions in India, Ghana and Nigeria. From 1956 until King's death, Rustin served as one of King's most trusted advisors. Randolph sent his star protégé' south to advise the Montgomery bus boycott organizing. Rustin taught King to adopt Mohatmas Gandhi's philosophy, convincing the fledgling leader that having his men armed with guns was incompatible with non-violent principles.
Bayard Rustin/Audre Lorde Breakfast
The 11th annual Bayard Rustin/Audre Lorde Breakfast was held Jan. 16, 2012, at St. Mark United Methodist Church as part of the official Martin Luther King Jr. march's events. More than 250 people attended the breakfast with the theme "Setting Our Agenda for Justice" and included food as well as discussion surrounding such issues as reproductive rights, gender equality, HIV stigma and economic disparity.
Founded by Craig Washington and Darlene Hudson, the breakfast is a way for black LGBT people "to take the lead in bringing all groups to remember the contributions of lesbian poet activist Audre Lorde and civil rights activist and aide to Dr. King, Bayard Rustin," says Hudson. (Photos by Dyana Bagby)
Paulina Helm-Hernandez, co-director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), is the 2012 honorary grand marshal and speaker for the Martin Luther King rally following the annual MLK March on Monday, Jan. 16.
The selection of Helm-Hernandez was announced by the Bayard Rustin/Audre Lorde Breakfast planning group. The breakfast, founded in 2002 by LGBT activists Craig Washington and Darlene Hudson, takes place this year at St. Mark United Methodist Church at 10 a.m.; the march begins at 1:30 p.m. with the rally following the march.
Helm-Hernandez was chosen because of her "commitment to community building with marginalized populations. She has a background in farm worker and immigrant/refugee rights organizing, cultural work, youth organizing, anti-violence work and liberation work that centers people most affected by violence, poverty, war and racism," the planning committee said in a statement.
The 10th annual Bayard Rustin/Audre Lorde Breakfast brought more than 200 people to St. Mark United Methodist Church this morning, uniting a diverse group of young people and elders alike from Atlanta’s LGBT community to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Rustin, a gay mentor to MLK who organized the renowned 1963 March on Washington and brought Ghandi’s teachings of non-violence into the Civil Rights Movement, suffered greatly as an openly gay man in such homophobic times, including being fired from leadership positions. He died in 1987 at the age of 75.
Lorde, a lesbian author and poet, was also an activist who wrote “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name," which she described as not an autobiography, but a "biomythography." ZAMI, Atlanta’s own organization for black lesbians of African descent, takes its name from Lorde's book. Lorde battled cancer in her later years and died in 1992 at the age of 58.