socio-political self-help and stuff
excuse me while i get a little teachical on you. yeah, i said teachical. 🙂 it’s the only thing i can think of that best describes what i must write in this moment… i’ve been thinking a bit about my heroes. those who’ve inspired me and have played amazing roles in helping me to become this woman… and one very special man keeps coming to mind. one very special man who, i’ve found, is missing in historical action, despite his amazing contributions to the civil rights movement. a man named bayard rustin.
never heard of him?
you’re not alone. mr. rustin seemingly found himself on the wrong side of a tale of two histories. which is why i have a serious issue with the folks writing books filled with selective facts, doled out to children from the atlantic to the pacific from september to june each year. even at the college level.
i can’t even pretend that i knew of his existence until about a year ago. my last summer’s reading list consisted of biography, biography and a little more biography. from sojourner truth to huey “kingfish” long, i couldn’t get enough of learning about the lives of people who’ve really made a mark (some more indelible than others) on the world. anyhoo, while reading biographies of martin luther king, jr. and malcolm x, i couldn’t help but notice mention of bayard rustin throughout both.
i must admit that i felt a little, how do i say it, dumb. i mean, i consider myself well-read. knowledgeable. and even more well-versed on the topic of civil rights. but i’d never ever ever heard of bayard rustin until then. and when i started asking people, including my family, born and raised in washington, dc – many in attendance at the march on washington – i received blank stares… so. i immediately enlisted the help of my trusty advisor, google, and discovered a minefield of historic information. including a documentary made about him. (what?! – that’s my genre and i’d never heard a thing about brother outsider.)
so i will just say it. there would have been no civil rights movement in this country were it not for the efforts of mr. rustin. yeah. i said it. what?!
hear me out. the man was arrested for refusing to give up his seat before rosa parks had bus fare (1942). he was the one, behind the scenes, advising and guiding a young, inexperienced mlk to practice non-violence during the montgomery bus boycott. and yes. it was mr. rustin who organized that aforementioned march on our nation’s capital in august 1963 that brought the clear image of “a dream” into the homes, hearts and minds across this nation.
i am not making this up. this man was a walking, talking civil rights movement. yet, there’s not much said about him – save the past few years, or so. but. there’s no postage stamp. no monument. no holiday. nothing.
it didn’t take much research to find out why. some say that it was because of his early affiliation with the communist party. i call bullshit. so many others in the fight for civil rights had also aligned themselves with communism, as they’d believed in its basic tenets of equality… the likes of langston hughes, richard wright and ralph ellison… who we’ve all, at least, heard of.
the truth of the matter is, mr. rustin was openly gay at a time where being so could mean jail time. and actually arrested during a 1953 sting for participation in ‘lewd acts with other men’. it’s said that j. edgar hoover (a noted homophobe) damned near stalked bayard and kept tabs on everything the man did – to later use against him. and it worked. due to his sexuality, he was forced out of the civil rights movement – to the point that even mlk later distanced himself from him, in order to quell threats of also being labeled homosexual by prominent new york congressman adam clayton powell. i know, right?!
still. mr. rustin continued to fight for the rights of those who would deny him his. still. mr. rustin’s impact on our national consciousness remains felt. still. his legacy is missing from the history books that he fought to change. and still. mr. rustin was a man way ahead of even our current time. books filled with half-truths will never change that.
thank you kindly, mr. rustin. you are a true hero. and will never be forgotten…