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Remembering Bayard Rustin: The Centennial of a Remarkable Life


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.