Who Was Bayard Rustin?

The Most Famous Civil Rights Hero You Never Heard Of

Best known as the organizer behind the 1963 March on Washington (you see him standing behind Martin Luther King Jr. at the podium in old footage), Bayard Rustin was that and more. Beginning in the 1930s, to his death in 1987, Rustin was a labor activist, gay rights activist, an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., a campaigner for A. Philip Randolph, strategist, tactician, singer, pacifist, and freedom fighter. He lived an amazing life and his legacy is one that all Americans can be proud of.

So why is Rustin unsung? As an openly gay man, Bayard Rustin experienced prejudice both within and without the movement for social justice, ultimately resigning his role with the South Christian Leadership Conference, opens a new window.

In 2013 the White House announced that Bayard Rustin would be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, opens a new window, the highest civilian award in the United States. In his speech, President Barack Obama said,

“This great leader ... was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay.”

Never deterred for long, Rustin spent his remaining years campaigning for LGBT rights.

Find out More on Bayard Rustin

Trouble Maker for Justice (Book)

Brother Outsider (DVD)

Bayard Rustin (Book)

Time on Two Crosses (Book)

Lost Prophet (Book)

You can also celebrate Rustin's life and accomplishments, by viewing the 2003 documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, opens a new window on our streaming service Kanopy. The documentary presents a vivid drama, intermingling the personal and the political, about this enigmatic figure of 20th-century American history.

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