As some of you will know, an important date from the black history calendar falls in the month of January. On the third Monday of the month, each year, we take a day to remember and celebrate the life, work and achievements of Dr Martin Luther King.
Raising awareness to great and unspoken LGBT history and people is one of the fundamental aims for Rainbow Noir and so alongside celebrating Dr King on the 19 January, we will also be talking about and celebrating the life and work of Bayard Rustin. Some of you may know Bayard Rustin but to many his name remains unfamiliar. Rustin was a civil and human rights activist and held a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement throughout the 1950s and ‘60s and his lifetime. Without the work of Rustin, the Civil Rights Movement may have taken a very different direction. Although Dr King is often seen as the forerunner of the movement, many are unaware of the influence and help from Rustin that shaped the Dr King we knew, loved and admired.
Rustin had travelled to India in the ‘50s and been heavily influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Ghandi – deepening his commitment to nonviolent protest and practices. Bringing this philosophy with him, Rustin influenced Dr King and the Civil Rights Movement with his belief in the potential and strength of non-violent protest. Despite the discrimination, hate and violence that black people endured in America, non-violent action was utilised throughout the Civil Rights Movement as a resistance strategy and something which the movement is remembered for today.
However perhaps what Rustin is most well-known for is his planning and organising of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; the march after which Dr King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech which inspired and moved millions of Americans and people around the globe to action. It was estimated that between 250,000 and 300,000 people attended the march and it was organised by Rustin in just two months.
Bayard Rustin is an inspirational figure and hero within black and LGBT communities. He was one of many black LGBT activists who contributed to the freedoms and rights that we have today. Globally we are nowhere near racial equality but without the work and commitment of people like Bayard, we would be a long, long way from here.