Bayard Rustin: Gay Man, MLK Strategist, and Civil Rights Key Player

By: Michael Matson

Bayard Rustin played a key role in the black civil rights movement, but because he was a gay man, he was forced to work below the radar. Subsequently, most Americans are not familiar with him. But all Americans should know and learn from his contributions to equality.

Rustin began his civil rights work in the early 1940s and led the very first Freedom Ride through the south in 1947. A follower of Ghandi, Rustin publicly advocated non-violent protest, which he would later make a centerpiece of Dr. Martin Luther King’s strategy.

After arriving in Montgomery, Alabama in February of 1956 during the midst of MLK’s campaign to end bus segregation, Rustin began strategizing how to raise King’s national profile and looked for opportunities for him to address the nation. Though Rustin was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, he had distanced himself from Dr. King by then to prevent a threatened smear campaign based on Rustin’s sexual orientation. 

Below we have collected three clips that shed further light on his life, accomplishments, and contributions: two from the 2005 documentary Out of the Past and the trailer for the 2010 documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin.

Today we will remember and celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We should also do the same for Bayard Rustin. Watch below.