COMMENTARY: General Bayard Rustin would be an appropriate title for Bayard Rustin. Rustin fought some of the most challenging equal rights skirmishes for Negroes decades before the full-fledged war for Civil Rights for Blacks was implemented in the 60s.
Bedroom v. Boardroom: Continual Contrasts.
There were some significant similarities and contrasts between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin. Dr. King, Jr. was a degreed Baptist theologian. Jervis Anderson wrote in Bayard Rustin: Troubles I’ve Seen that, “One of the three colleges he (Rustin) entered (graduating from none) was a teacher-training institution, he excelled at another school as a student of music, and at a third college that Rustin committed himself wholly to a career in social activism.” Even though Rustin was not a licensed minister, Anderson reported that, “While attending high school in West Chester, he (Rustin) preached an occasional sermon at the local African Methodist Episcopal church.”
However, the personal lives of these two Civil Rights icons were are different as night and day. Dr. King, Jr. was married with children, and Rustin was an openly gay Black man. Daniel Levine wrote in Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement that, “He (Rustin) was not aware of his homosexuality in high school. In high school he was an outstanding athlete and student. He was also good friends with two of the girls in his honors class. When he was in prison as a conscientious objector during World War II, he told the prison doctor that both awareness and activity began around the age of fourteen.”
Yet, in spite Rustin’s moral dilemma regarding his homosexuality, and objections to WWII, Rustin remained an effective officer during the Civil Rights Struggles. Anderson wrote, “At movie theaters like the Warner and the Rialto, he (Rustin) and other blacks were directed to the balcony. He was arrested at the Warner, on South High Street, for refusing his ‘reserved’ place in the balcony and daring to sit in the white section—the first of more than twenty-five arrests he was to log in a near lifetime of social protest.”
The Wind Beneath Rosa Parks’ Wings.
Many years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., there was Irene Morgan. Anderson wrote, “Morgan was convicted in 1944 because she took the first occupied seat she saw on a Greyhound bus in Gloucester County, Va., because she was weak from recent surgery. On the advice of the NAACP, Morgan appealed the Virginia law against integrated seating on vehicles of interstate transport. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Thurgood Marshall argued this case before the United States Supreme Court in 1946, where by a vote of seven to one, the court concurred with Marshall that the Virginia code was not only unduly burdensome but also unconstitutional, a violation of statutes governing interstate commerce.”
Following up on Morgan v. Virginia, Rustin and many other Civil Rights leaders organized what became known as the “Journey of Reconciliation”, which began in the North and spread throughout the South spurring the Rosa Parks legacy.
Rustin: The Soul Food of the Nation.
Anderson wrote, “In January 1963, after conferring with Norman Hill and Tom Kahn, Rustin presented A. Philip Randolph with an outline of the Emancipation March, entailing “the co-ordinated participation of all progressive sectors of the liberal, labor, religious, and Negro communities.” The Emancipation March became known in history as the March on Washington where Dr. King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. Rustin was the chief coordinator and organizer of the March on Washington, but he was one of the last speakers before the program ended. Even though Rustin was often last to get recognition for organizing some of the most important engines for change in regards to Civil Rights for all minorities, Rustin was certainly no caboose.