Bad Boyz (#2)

Bayard Rustin

Now, early in the morning the day of the March on Washington, the National Mall was far from full and some in the press were beginning to wonder if the event would be a failure. But the march’s chief organizer, Bayard Rustin, didn’t panic. As the story goes, he looked down at a piece of paper, looked back up, and reassured reporters that everything was right on schedule. The only thing those reporters didn’t know was that the paper he was holding was blank. (Laughter.) He didn’t know how it was going to work out, but Bayard had an unshakable optimism, nerves of steel, and, most importantly, a faith that if the cause is just and people are organized, nothing can stand in our way.

So, for decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay. No medal can change that, but today, we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love. —Remarks by the President at Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony


What gets you on this list? Maybe it’s the I’m me, deal with it attitude. Even though Bayard could be discrete, when asked, he was openly gay. Definitely being great at what you do, because what you do sets the standard for excellence. A Morehouse man once told me, we didn’t know what to do with Bayard exactly. Benjamin Jealous (President NAACP):

“We had to start from the fact — somebody once said to me, I didn’t march in the ’60’s so that men could sleep together. And I was like, well, that’s all right because Bayard Rustin had that held down. You know, the man who planned the march on Washington was gay, was known to be gay, and that was okay with Dr. King, it was okay with Julian Bond and John Lewis then, and it’s okay now. Our only regrets about Bayard Rustin are that he still isn’t with us planning marches.”

I wasn’t a Quaker, but fortunately attended a Friends School. Those Quaker principles shine through with Bayard (PDF Quaker Profile) — and what it means to be an Angelic Troublemaker. I love that he lived long enough so the world could catch up with him.

He was introduced to nonviolent philosophy by his grandmother, Julia Davis Rustin, who was reared in a Quaker household and educated at a local Friends school. His grandfather, Janifer Rustin, was an active member of the local African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. Young Bayard navigated both of these traditions, drawing philosophically from Quaker texts while developing his tenor voice singing at AME services.

…Having spent three years in federal prison as a conscientious objector, where he organized protests against racially segregated practices, Rustin was well qualified to advise Quaker involvement in these concerns. He was a key participant in the drafting of the 1955 landmark Quaker pamphlet “Speak Truth to Power,” although his name was omitted, at his request, from the list of contributors due to a 1953 arrest on a morals charge. Rustin felt that his name on the work would provide a tool for those wishing to distract attention from the important message therein.

Bayard Rustin

We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers. Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable. All we have is our bodies. We need to tuck them, tuck them, in places so that the wheels don’t turn.
Bayard Rustin


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