Bayard Rustin: The Man Who Organized the March on Washington
Commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington begin on Saturday with a march tracing the original route taken in 1963. A smaller march will be held next Wednesday, August 28th. on the anniversary date and President Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Church bells will peal around the nation at 3 p.m. to mark the moment the speech began.
Trailblazing LGBTQ activist Bayard Rustin organized the 250,000 person March on Washington. Fifty years out, Rustin’s assignment to the “closet” will end and his extraordinary achievements will finally be recognized. Saturday’s march, National Action to Reclaim the Dream, will include the voices of LGBTQ people and women.
“‘In ’63, we didn’t talk about gays,’ said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was joined by gay and lesbian activists in announcing plans for the gatherings scheduled Aug. 24-28 in Washington. ‘Bayard Rustin had to take a back seat. Gay and lesbian leadership stands with us and will be speaking this time.’”
Bayard Rustin will also receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously this year, the Nation’s highest civilian honor. According to the White House page on the medal, “Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, the Executive Director & CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, issued the following response after the White House announced that President Obama will be awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bayard Rustin.
As one of the chief architects of the Civil Rights Movement and the brilliance behind the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Rustin’s indispensable contributions to the ethos of our country continue to reverberate and push us toward a more just and fair society. America is indebted to Rustin, and our nation is right to finally honor him for his stalwart courage and leadership.
Rustin was a radical visionary–a Black gay activist for freedom and peace during a time when the conditions of both of these identities were perilous. The fact that he lived at the intersection of these identities while fighting for the freedoms of all oppressed people is even more revolutionary. Rustin owned his power as a Black, openly gay man to fiercely challenge the status quo and fight on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized, while at the same time refusing to be defined by any single aspect of his identity. Rustin was as unapologetically Black as he was gay, and by his very presence challenged the evils of homophobia and racism throughout his life. His legacy leaves a salient lesson for us on the power of living authentically.
However, in spite of all that Rustin was able to achieve on behalf of justice and equality, racism and homophobia has long clouded the narrative of Rustin’s work, erasing him from our history books and stymying the proper celebration of his contributions to our country…Our work at NBJC is a testament to the spirit of Bayard Rustin’s life, inspiring Black LGBT people to own their power and teaching others how Black LGBT people navigate space at the intersection of their identities.
Rustin dedicated his life to the pursuit of human rights and justice for all in a dynamic and selfless way, and has verily earned his space in the history books. Words cannot express how elated I am to see Bayard Rustin given his just due. I thank President Obama for lifting up this important piece of our nation’s history.
If you would like to participate with a coalition of LGBTQ organizations in the National Action to Reclaim the Dream march, join us on Saturday, August 24, 2013, at 8 AM – 3 PM in Washington, D.C. at the DC War Memorial at 900 Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20245 (The Memorial is located across Independence Ave. from the Martin Luther King Memorial), as we come together in support of freedom and justice! Alex McNeill, MLP’s new Executive Director, will be participating in the march.