Bayard Rustin

The Cardinal celebrates LGBTQ+ History Month!


Amina Naleye, Staff Writer

Martin Luther King Jr.’s close friend and advisor Bayard Rustin was the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He did not gain widespread recognition for his vital contribution in the civil rights struggle, however, since he was an openly gay man. Opposing parties threatened to propagate misinformation about Rustin and Dr. King’s connection because of their sexuality. Rustin was obliged to labor in the shadows in order to avoid causing further problems for Dr. King and the March on Washington. Rustin remained a political and LGBT activist despite this, seeking to bring the AIDS problem to the attention of the NAACP.

In 1960, Rustin hit one of the lowest points of his career. Rustin was later hired by the War Resisters League, which reintroduced him to the civil rights struggle. His sexuality, on the other hand, continued to put him on the back burner. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, enraged that Rustin and King were preparing a march outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, threatened King that unless he dropped Rustin, Powell would reveal to the press that King and Rustin were gay lovers. Despite the fact that Powell had manufactured the allegation for his own malevolent purposes, King, in one of his weaker moments, called off the march and distanced himself from Rustin, who subsequently resigned from King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Rustin was an honorary chairperson of the Socialist Party of America before it changed its name to Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA) in 1972. During the 1970s, he served as national chairman of SDUSA. Rustin participated in a number of humanitarian missions in the 1970s and 1980s, including assisting refugees from Communist Vietnam and Cambodia. In 1987, he died while on a charity assignment in Haiti.