Bayard Rustin: Prophet Of Freedom, Justice, And Humanity

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tags: African American history, gay rights, biography, Bayard Rustin, LGBTQIA history

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.

The recent 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots marks an important milestone in the visibility of LGBTQ communities. Particularly noteworthy is Marsha Johnson, a Black transgender woman who played a significant role in fighting back against the police repression that led to the riot. Johnson’s actions heightened the visibility of transgender people and proved foundational in contemporary advocacy work on trans issues. 

Black LGBTQ people like Johnson have played significant roles in Black freedom struggles throughout the twentieth century. One of the least known yet most influential figures is Bayard Rustin. A theorist and proponent of nonviolence who worked to overturn the system of Jim Crow, he was also a major organizer in social justice and civil rights organizations events prior to, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement.

Bayard Rustin was born into a relatively affluent Black family in 1912. Raised by his grandparents in West Chester, Pennsylvania, he was the son of an African American mother and a West Indian immigrant father. Growing up in a progressive and tolerant environment allowed him to develop the skills and aptitude for social justice work. Julia Davis Rustin, his grandmother, was a Quaker who accepted and embraced Rustin’s sexuality at an early age.

Rustin later attended Wilberforce University and Cheyney University, private historically Black colleges and universities. He was active in student organizations at Wilberforce but was expelled after leading a student strike to protest the cafeteria food. He left Wilberforce and enrolled in Cheyney State. He pursued his interests in social justice by completing an activist training program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization devoted to peace and social justice in the United States and around the world.

Read entire article at The North Star

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