Bayard Rustin

American civil rights activist (1912–1987)

Bayard Rustin (/ˈbaɪərd/; March 17, 1912August 24, 1987) was an African American leader in the movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. He was born and raised in Pennsylvania where his family was involved in civil rights work. In 1936, he moved to Harlem, New York City and earned a living as a nightclub and stage singer.

Bayard Rustin in 1963

Quotes edit

  • When an individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.
    • The Mirage of Dignity on the Highways of Human 'progress': - the bystanders' perspective - , by Lukman Harees, p xv, 2012.
  • I think the movement contributed to this nation a sense of universal freedom. Precisely because women saw our movement in the sixties, stimulated them to want their rights. The fact that students saw the movement of the sixties created a student movement in this country. The fact that the people were against the war in Vietnam, saw us go into the street and win, made it possible for them to have the courage to go into the street and win, and the lesson that I would like to see from this is, that we must now find a way to deal with the problem of full employment, and as surely as we were able to bring about the Civil Rights Act, the voter rights act--the Voting Rights Act, I mean the education act, and the housing act, so is it possible for all of us now to combine our forces in a coalition, including Catholic, Protestant, Jew and labor and blacks and Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans and all other minorities, to bring about the one thing that will bring peace internally to the United States. And that is that any man who wants a job, or any woman who wants a job, shall not be left unemployed.
    • Eyes on the Prize interview, Interview with Bayard Rustin, conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. (1979)
  • We in America reject planning except for the private sector of the economy, so what we have is democratic socialization for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.
  • Thus social democracy is neither pro-capitalist nor, for the present, rigidly anti-capitalist. Indeed, social democracy (and in the United States, a roughly analogous coalition of labor, liberals, and minorities) has already greatly transformed capitalism. Social democracy adopts a flexible approach to institutional arrangements and social reforms; it has no unalterable blueprint to impose on society. Every social-democratic proposal is motivated and tested by its probable consequences for the democratic life of the community. Social democracy is more a method of social change than a definition of what society should look like.

"To Local Board No. 63" (November 16, 1943) edit

  • For eight years I have believed war to be impractical and a denial of our Hebrew-Christian tradition. The social teachings of Jesus are: (1) respect for personality; (2) service the "sumumbonum"; (3) overcoming evil with good; and (4) the brotherhood of man. Those principles as I see it are violated by participation in war.
  • the basic spiritual truth that men are brothers in the sight of God
  • War is wrong. Conscription is a concomitant of modern war. Thus conscription for so vast an evil as war is wrong.
  • Conscription for war is inconsistent with freedom of conscience, which is not merely the right to believe, but to act on the degree of truth that one receives, to follow a vocation which is God-inspired and God-directed.
  • Today I feel that God motivates me to use my whole being to combat by nonviolent means the ever-growing racial tension in the United States; at the same time the state directs that I shall do its will; which of these dictates can I follow-that of God or that of the state? Surely, I must at all times attempt to obey the law of the state. But when the will of God and the will of the state conflict, I am compelled to follow the will of God. If I cannot continue in my present vocation, I must resist.
  • The Conscription Act denies brotherhood-the most basic New Testament teaching. Its design and purpose is to set men apart-German against American, American against Japanese. Its aim springs from a moral impossibility-that ends justify means, that from unfriendly acts a new and friendly world can emerge.
  • In practice further, it (the Conscription Act) separates black from white-those supposedly struggling for a common freedom. Such a separation also is based on the moral error that racism can overcome racism, that evil can produce good, that men virtually in slavery can struggle for a freedom they are denied.
  • I must protest racial discrimination in the armed forces, which is not only morally indefensible but also in clear violation of the Act. This does not, however, imply that I could have a part in conforming to the Act if discrimination were eliminated.
  • Segregation, separation, according to Jesus, is the basis of continuous violence.
  • That which separates man from his brother is evil and must be resisted.
  • It is always timely and virtuous to change-to take in all humility a new path.

Quotes about Rustin edit

  • as John Lewis later recalled, "This was going to be a massively complex undertaking, and there was no one more able to pull it together than Bayard Rustin."
    • about the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Kim Kelly (journalist) Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor (2022)
  • It is fascinating to notice that in the Montgomery boycott the various strands and origins of the idea of nonviolent resistance fused into a newly invigorated practice and theory of immense power. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., although he credited his formulation of "massive non-cooperation" to Thoreau, had been exposed to pacifist thought during his studies under the pacifist Allen Knight Chalmers, who was a Gandhian. Another long-time pacifist, Bayard Rustin, secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation since 1935, and later secretary of the War Resisters League, was one of the chief tacticians and organizers of the Montgomery boycott. It was he who counseled the use of nonviolent means at the outset of the boycott. Finally, probably unknown to most of the actors in the drama, there was a precedent for a bus boycott by a black community in the example of the 1892 Memphis, Tennessee, boycott of streetcars by the black community to protest a lynching. This boycott was actively supported by Ida B. Wells-Barnett and was, according to her account, highly effective.
  • I’d never known pacifists before. My parents were very peaceful people and socialists, and they were always against all wars, but pacifism was not a Russian socialist idea. Somebody invited [peace and civil rights activist and WRL staffer] Bayard Rustin to talk, and Mary Gandall and I listened to him with our mouths open. We were both so impressed—it was like the good news, as they say about Jesus. We were getting very good news about how to think about the world.
    • Grace Paley, Interview with War Resisters League (2000)

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