West Chester’s Bayard Rustin May Not Be Household Name, But Is One of Most Important Civil Rights Leaders 

Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr.
Image via the estate of Bayard Rustin.
Bayard Rustin, left, and Martin Luther King Jr.

West Chester’s Bayard Rustin left behind a legacy in overcoming racism, eliminating poverty, and ending violence that is unmatched by any other African American civil rights leader other than Martin Luther King Jr, whose legacy Rustin also helped create, writes Jerald Podair for History Today

He should be a household name, but he often had to work from the shadows due to homophobia. 

He was the nation’s first intersectional radical who was at once a civil rights advocate, a pacifist, a socialist, a trade unionist, and later in his life, a gay rights activist. 

Rustin, who was forced to resign as King’s special assistant due to his homosexuality, was so good at organizing peaceful protests that King, despite the objections of many of the NAACP’s leaders, invited him to serve as the assistant director and de facto chief of the March on Washington. 

Rustin coordinated logistics for the entire event seamlessly and recruited the speakers for the rally at the Lincoln Memorial. It was his decision to put King on the speakers’ list, which resulted in the historic “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Read more about Bayard Rustin in History Today

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