As one of the organizers for the famous March on Washington in 1963, it was Rustin who believed the best way to achieve maximum effectiveness was to keep it strictly nonviolent – and the march has since gone down in history as one of the greatest protest marches ever staged in America.
But Rustin’s organizing skills went as far back as the early 1940s, when he organized the 1941 March on Washington – or as it was later called, “the march that never happened”.
A tireless advocate for human rights, Rustin focused much of his attention on the social and economic problems of working class and unemployed Blacks. After the success of the March on Washington, it was Bayard Rustin who said the Civil Rights Movement had left its period of protest and had from then on had entered the new era of Politics. Shortly after, Rustin became head of the AFofL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute. But also as a Gay Man, his battles with the stigma associated with homosexuality only served to solidify his resolve in the area of rights for all.
His many activities and involvements went all the way up to his death in 1987 while on a Humanitarian mission in Haiti.
This interview, part of the series Speaking Freely, hosted by Edward Newman, goes to the heart of the problem. It was recorded in March of 1969.
Race relations have never been good – they have been given attention and they have prompted legislation, but the fact of the matter is; racism has been part of the American fabric for a very long time. And even though this broadcast is from 1969, it gives some idea of just how much of an uphill fight the Civil Rights Movement faced some 50 years ago, and how, for the most part, it is still going on today, possibly even more so. Sadly, voices such as Bayard Rustin’s are no longer with us – the movement was widely inhabited by larger-than-life figures.
As a reminder of the eloquence and commitment of one of the Civil Rights Movement’s pivotal leaders, here is that interview between Edwin Newman and Bayard Rustin from Speaking Freely in March of 1969.