“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”
On August 28th, 1963,
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech
at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
That day, nearly a quarter million people gathered on the national mall
to demand an end to the discrimination, segregation, violence,
仍然面临的歧视 种族隔离 暴力和经济排斥
and economic exclusion black people still faced across the United States.
None of it would have been possible
without the march’s chief organizer
– a man named Bayard Rustin.
Rustin grew up in a Quaker household,
and began peacefully protesting racial segregation in high school.
He remained committed to pacifism throughout his life,
1944年 因宗教信仰的原因 拒绝在二战中服兵役而入狱
and was jailed in 1944 as a conscientious objector to World War II.
During his two-year imprisonment,
he protested the segregated facilities from within.
Wherever Rustin went, he organized and advocated,
and was constantly attuned to the methods, groups, and people
who could help further messages of equality.
He joined the Communist Party
when black American’s civil rights were one of its priorities,
but soon became disillusioned by the party’s authoritarian leanings and left.
In 1948, he traveled to India
to learn the peaceful resistance strategies
of the recently assassinated Mahatma Gandhi.
He returned to the United States armed
with strategies for peaceful protest,
including civil disobedience.
He began to work with Martin Luther King Jr in 1955,
and shared these ideas with him.
As King’s prominence increased,
Rustin became his main advisor,
as well as a key strategist in the broader civil rights movement.
He brought his organizing expertise to
the 1956 bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama
—in fact, he had organized and participated in a transportation protest
that helped inspire the boycotts almost a decade before.
His largest-scale organizing project came in 1963,
when he led the planning for the national march on Washington.
The possibility of riots that could injure marchers
and undermine their message of peaceful protest was a huge concern.
Rustin not only worked with the DC police and hospitals to prepare,
but organized and trained a volunteer force of 2,000 security marshals.
In spite of his deft management,
some of the other organizers did
not want Rustin to march in front
with other leaders from the south, because of his homosexuality.
Despite these slights, Rustin maintained his focus,
and on the day of the march
he delivered the marchers’ demands in a speech directed
at President John F. Kennedy.
The march itself proceeded smoothly, without any violence.
It has been credited with helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act,
which ended segregation in public places
and banned employment discrimination,
and the 1965 Voting Rights Act,
which outlawed discriminatory voting practices.
In spite of his decades of service,
Rustin’s positions on certain political issues were unpopular among his peers.
Some thought he wasn’t critical enough of the Vietnam War,
or that he was too eager to collaborate with the political establishment
including the president and congress.
Others were uncomfortable with his former communist affiliation.
But ultimately, both his belief in collaboration with the government
and his membership to the communist party had been
driven by his desire to maximize tangible gains
in liberties for black Americans,
and to do so as quickly as possible.
Rustin was passed over for several influential roles in the 1960s and 70s,
but he never stopped his activism.
In the 1980s,
he publicly came out as gay, and was instrumental
in drawing attention to the AIDS crisis until his death in 1987.
In 2013, fifty years after the March On Washington,
President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him
the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
praising Rustin’s “march towards true equality,
no matter who we are or who we love.”