Where’s Bayard Rustin’s Statue?
It is especially pleasing to see as part of the remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom the rehabilitation of Bayard Rustin, a lost gay hero or a lost hero full-stop.
As, of all people, Robert Turner of Log Cabin Republicans put it in the Washington Blade:
It is important that we in the gay community observe and honor our heroes of all nationalities, races, and genders. Rustin deserves a place in the annals of history right next to Frank Kameny and Harvey Milk.
Rustin was a gay liberationist, a socialist, a civil rights leader and a pacifist. And he was the March’s organiser. A week after the March it was he who was on the cover of Life Magazine, not MLK.
His leadership almost didn’t happen …
Rustin’s central role as a philosopher in the movement insisting on Ghandian non-violence and on the need for integration, not segregation, is shown in him being the one who took the debate to Malcolm X, video of which I also post after the jump. Says Long:
Bayard certainly had a grand vision. As an openly gay, African American, pacifist, socialist activist with roots in communism, he could see the interconnections of sufferings caused by various prejudices and discriminations. And because of this, he insisted on practicing coalition politics. While he understood the frustration and anger of individuals wanting to “go it alone,” he also believed that “frustration politics” does nothing constructive. What we need to do, he said, is to start building coalitions with like-minded people, including those in power, around the grand ideas of equality and justice for all. Bayard was the first to encourage King to build coalitions with labor and political liberals. And he was right about this — coalition politics centered on achieving rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone is the path to achieving our unique goals. As he put all this, we need to move “from protest to politics.”
It is also disappointing to see little mention in anniversary coverage of Rustin’s role after the 70’s, in his last two decades, as a supporter of the Gay Liberation Movement, although he wasn’t really publicly outspoken until the 1980s: In 1986, just before his death, he gave a speech ‘The New Niggers Are Gays’:
Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. … It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. … The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.
Rustin’s rehabilitation will continue as he has been posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor by President Obama. Rustin has a few memorials …