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Day 13: Silenced leader of the Civil Rights Movement finally getting widespread acknowledgement

28 Days of Black History

By Coshandra Dillard

Bayard, far left, sits with Andrew Young, Rep. William Fitts Ryan, James Farmer, and John Lewis.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

On Nov. 20, 2013, Barack Obama awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bayard Rustin.

Some may know him as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and a fervent advocate of nonviolent activism. But what many don’t know is he brought the resistance ideas of Mahatma Ghandi to the Civil Rights Movement, and helped mold Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as the symbol of the movement.

In 1942, Rustin, helped found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

group charged with creating non-violent direct action, including challenging racial segregation on bus travel, leading up to the famous Freedom Rides of 1960.

He spent decades championing equality among all races, pacifism and workers’ rights.

So why is it that we don’t know much about him? Why isn’t  his name spouted at every Black History Month event, or all over school history textbooks?

While Rustin was a key figure in mobilizing ideas to action, he was silenced and prevented from partaking in leadership roles because he was openly gay.

In recent years, efforts to lift Rustin to his rightful place in history have included documentaries about his life, including Brother Rustin.


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