Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen

Bayard Rustin, by life and words, left a message that too many black preachers have not learned from. I suggest they need to stop preaching hatred of homosexuals since their lives today are better because of a black homosexual: Bayard Rustin.

Do they not know that it was a homosexual who was the main force behind the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the main strategist for several early black civil rights groups? If not, they can read, among other books, Jervis Anderson's biography of Rustin, titled: Bayard Rustin; Troubles I've Seen. It would also be a very worthwhile book for all Americans to read, especially activists today in the black and homosexual civil rights movements.

The most important point about Rustin's life is that he, as the book shows, did not waste any time trying to explain his homosexuality to his co-workers, all of whom where heterosexual, male and female, black and white, young and old. You "hear" of his arrest on sex charges in Pasadena CA early in his career, and that is the end of discussion except for the bigots in the FBI and black organizations who tried to use the arrest to prevent him from doing his work, which they were jealous of.

There is a direct parallel between the black and homosexual civil rights movements, and only ignorant people try to deny it. Rustin was the perfect example. The tactics used by southern racists against him were due to his being a proud black man who happened to be homosexual. He combined the two movements even though he only worked for the black movement.

The issues he and the black organizations faced were the same that homosexual movement pioneers faced. They were both attacked by the FBI and politicians and churches. There are many examples given, but one that stands out to show how the media was complicit in working against both civil rights movements is that the Alabama paper allowed itself, as did the New York Times, etc, to be used by his enemies to attack Rustin and the black leaders of the march in Alabama. And it is not widely known that Rustin was a main organizer of this work, as well as the famous March on Washington. People in the black movement who were jealous of his power and influence, including Adam Clayton Powell, who blackmailed leaders to keep him out of the movement. Some good leaders tried to stop Rustin because they felt he, as was and is true of both movements today, was trying to join/combine too many issues together, in his case pacifism and black civil rights, and poverty, etc. An issue relevant today in politics thanks to Senator Clinton's famous remark that Dr. King's work and words were important but it took president Johnson to change the laws, was used by Roy Wilkins against Dr. King—he said to King, your words have not changed any laws.

Rustin, in the black movement, like Don Slater in the homosexual movement, was not always in agreement with the views and tactics of the majority of his co-workers. Many plans and events that Rustin warned his friends against turned out to do harm to the movement when his warnings were ignored. His views on affirmative action were not in the mainstream. Same with Don slater. He came to think that the time of marches had passed. Same with Don Slater. He was the most important person in the background in several organizations and few knew of his great work. The same is true of Don Slater.

Southern racists used Rustin's skin color against him. Jealous co-workers used his homosexuality against him. In the end Rustin remains the most important unknown person in the black civil rights movement. His words are as important today as when he was speaking them. And it would be a good idea for Senator Obama and his associates to take the time to read about Bayard Rustin-as he was the person behind the scenes who helped make Dr. King and later black civil rights leaders who they were. And he planned what they did.

Again, the book is: Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen, a biography by Jervis Anderson, published by HarperColins, in 1997.


Donna Ellis, PFLAG Phoenix said...

I agree totally, Mr. Glover. I began to learn about Bayard Rustin as a student of Black History in Kansas City, MO. My Black History professor, Dr. Edward Beasley, pushed me to learn more and more until I was crammed as full as I could be crammed! Bayard Rustin wasn’t a big part of my studies back then (in the late ’70s) but later when I became a PFLAG mom, I rediscovered him and read more about him. I think it is tragic that so many Blacks have deserted out GLBT family. I consider our GLBT struggle a Civil Rights struggle which is very similar to the early days of integration, and I do not want to see our GLBT rights only for Gays or Lesbians but for Bi’s and Trans as well….. Until we are ALL truly equal citizens of this country, equally covered by law, marital rights and privileges, we are none of us really covered…..I didn’t help in the Civil Rights struggle for only light skinned Blacks to be able to sit at lunch counters. I helped for ALL Blacks to sit there, and to vote, and to buy a house on MY block if they chose, and to marry whomever they wanted, etc. etc. But I’m chagrinned that many of them have turned their backs on the Gay community and don’t see that community as their family. I think Obama had better see the GLBT community as an opportunity to unite us, too….If he goes any other direction, it will be a disaster. Religion has often played a negative role in GLBT functions, as we all know. I hope that Obama will be wise enough to not allow negativity turn us away. We’ve had enough of that with the current administration.

Thank you for another observation that is right on target. Yes, Bayard Rustin was wonderful. Someone needs to do a Bio of his life! He should have been on the Black History Stamp this year…..I don’t know where they came up with Charles W. Chestnutt for that stamp, but I was actually angry when I saw it. There were so many other wonderful people that COULD have been commemorated on that stamp……I wondered who the heck chose him? Of course, Rustin wouldn’t have made it during THIS administration, but perhaps the next one. We can only hope. Thanks, Donna Ellis

Dave Prince said...

I'm not sure who you are or how you got my email address, but I appreciate your words about Bayard Rustin, whom I heard speak at the 1963 March on Washington. The good news for me is that Barack Obama has raised the issue of homophobia with black pastors and black church groups. We will keep fighting on.

Billy Glover said...

Thanks, I think most people that hear about Rustin feel the same way.

I had known of him as I worked with Hal Call/Don Lucas in Mattachine (San Francisco) for a week or two in 1959, but joined and worked for ONE, Inc,(1952) in L. A. and (briefly) for ONE's funding arm ISHR-Institute for the Study of Human Resources, , and then part of ONE separated to bercome the Homosexual Information Center, (the Don Slater part, Dorr Legg kept ONE, and Jim Kepner had already started his archives). ONE was the first open homosexual resource, first publicly sold publication-which we had to go the the U S Supreme Court to get the right to continue pubishing (1958), the first public office, phone, meetngs,etc. Our website is:

After workng in L. A. for over 30 years,I am back living in LA the state, and thanks to the internet/email, cell phone, etc, I can do as much as we did the old way and reach more people. I am sure I got your email address as a church, listed somewhere, such as in Gayellow Pages, probably as a gay-friendly church/resource.