If you have heard of the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the March on Washington you have heard of Bayard Rustin’s work. Bayard Rustin was a civil rights organizer and activist, best known for his work as adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and ’60s. Rustin was also skilled in logistics and organizing. In 1958, he played an important role in coordinating a march in Aldermaston, England, in which 10,000 attendees demonstrated against nuclear weapons.
Rustin began working as an advisor to Dr. King in 1955 and introduced Dr. King to the strategies of civil disobedience and Gandhi’s philosophy on nonviolent resistance. Rustin helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott and later played an integral role in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. At the event on August 28, 1963, King delivered his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
Rustin was no stranger to interactions with the police as he was arrested several times, spent time in jail and on the chain gang; however, he did not shy away from the work to set the world on a new path forward. As an out and openly gay man Rustin was often targeted by the police. After the March on Washington Rustin continued to organize around the need for economic equality as well as the need for social rights for gays and lesbians. He received several awards and accolades for his work including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Bayard Rustin died in New York City on August 24, 1987.
Bayard Rustin is one of the people we are honoring with our Special Edition Black History Month collection in The District. Click here to get your special edition sweatshirt.