Bayard Rustin, the brilliant aide to A. Philip Randolph (see no. 48) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (see no. 91), added the Gandhian ideal of pacifism to the modem civil rights movement. He was bom in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he suffered at the hands of his peers.
Inventing his own flamboyant character by impersonating his stepfather’s Indian accent and enduring the early bullying he took from schoolmates for his extreme intelligence, Rustin sought true community in Cheyney State College and Wilberforce University in Ohio.
Attracted to socialism but disillusioned when the socialists avoided issues of racism, Rustin joined the Young Commu¬ nist League in 1936. Performing in Harlem as a musician, and recruiting for the Young Communist League, Rustin found a society he could charm and influence. He left the League in 1941 to join Fellowship for Rec¬ onciliation, which grew into the influential Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
President A. Philip Randolph had been quick to spot Rustin’s unique ability to orga¬ nize and endure enormous pressure in order to maintain a movement. Rustin joined Ran¬ dolph as his assistant, and helped organize the threatened march on Washington, DC, that convinced President Franklin D. Roo¬ sevelt to end discrimination in the military.
Always looking for the next project, Rustin was one of the first to get involved in the freedom rides. Rustin tested the new US Supreme Court ruling that African- Americans didn’t have to sit at the back of the bus by riding in the front of an inter¬ state bus through the South with other members of CORE.
They were arrested and Rustin and his associates served 22 days in jail when the NAACP could not legally defend them because of lost evi¬ dence. Rustin was the first to view the pun¬ ishment as a possible way to teach peace through lack of resistance.
Leaving CORE, Rustin became an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he and 150 others were held legally responsible for the Montgomery bus boycott. Helping King face arrest without resistance, drafting the original plan for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and assisting A.
Philip Randolph in the organization of the massive, 1963 March on Washington, which became the symbol for not just the civil rights movement, but all moves for lib¬ erty and equality in the US, Rustin was an invaluable and brilliant activist.
Until his death, Rustin headed the A. Philip Randolph Institute in New York, where he never surrendered his belief in nonviolence and complete, uncompro¬ mised equality.