August 28, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
From that march, tens of thousands of people returned to their homes motivated to work harder to end racial discrimination. It was at that march that Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
And yet, one of the least know players in that event was Bayard Rustin. In fact, without Bayard the march would not have happened. Likewise, without Bayard the pacifist nature of the King campaign for racial equality might not have happened.
Now, Bayard is getting his due from the U.S. government. President Obama announced this month that Bayard will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously. The Medal of Honor is the highest award the U.S. government gives to civilians for service to the country.
Here is the White House write up on Bayard
Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.
Freedom House praised the action: “three resounding cheers for President Barack Obama’s decision to name Bayard Rustin as a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Freedom this year.”
Bayard always saw the connection between democracy and freedom in the United States with the fight for freedom around the world. In his later years, Bayard spent most of his time addressing these issues worldwide:
While much of his attention was focused on developments in Africa, he was among the first to speak out against the horrors Cambodians suffered under the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge, and he championed the causes of the Vietnamese boat people, the Solidarity trade union in Poland, and Soviet Jews. Bayard was increasingly concerned about the domination of African societies by repressive, thuggish dictatorships, and by the silence of black political figures in the United States over the region’s lack of freedom. Strongly influenced by the fate of European Jewry under Adolf Hitler’s persecution and by ongoing threats to Israel from its neighbors, Bayard came to adjust his pacifist views that had been formed in pre-Holocaust times.
“Brother Outsider” is a 2008 documentary about Bayard that fairly and distinctly tells his story. It is well worth a watch.
And lastly, I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Bayard on several occasions. His contributions to advancing a civil society need to better known and appreciated.
To repeat what Arch Puddington said: “Three resounding cheers for President Barack Obama’s decision.”