Rustin Instilled Power To The People
BY Michelle Garcia
March 16 2012 3:00 AM ET
Celebrating the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a new book shares the correspondence Martin Luther King Jr.'s right-hand man, Bayard Rustin, known as the "lost prophet" of the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin, who was gay, was the target of the federal government, as he organized demonstrations, rallied activists, and lobbied politicians to help make life better for people of color. Below is an excerpt from Michael Long's new book, I Must Resist: The Life and Letters of Bayard Rustin (City Lights, $19.95), with exchanges taking place amid the New York Race Riots of 1964 and 1965.
RUSTIN TO MAYOR ROBERT WAGNER
In this urgent telegram, Rustin calls upon New York City Mayor Robert Wagner to take immediate and concrete steps, including the creation of a police review board comprised mostly of citizens, to avoid "a long, hot summer."
May 19, 1965
You will recall that almost a year ago Dr. Martin Luther King and I placed before you the demands that had been drawn up by New York's Negro leaders, and outlined a specific program designed to deal with the fundamental problems underlying the violence then raging in the ghettos of New York.
Paramount among those problems we stated were police brutality and economic hardship, particularly as manifest in unemployment of Negro and Puerto Rican youth.
The proposals we laid before you have not been implemented. Yet before us stretches a summer of even greater youth unemployment and summering discontent provoked by continuing examples of reported police brutality and discrimination, as in the Whitmore and Sideratos cases.
Having failed to move to eliminate the causes of social discord, you and your administration cannot escape major responsibility should last summer's tragedy be repeated.
The choice before you is clear; either you creatively meet the causes of discontent in spring, or negatively face another long, hot summer.
The prompt establishment of a genuine civilian police review board independent of the city administration, the creation of a municipal job program for youth, and the appointment of a qualified Puerto Rican to the school board are three among many steps that must now be taken.
Many of us who went in the streets last summer to help establish peace know that nothing short of a bold social and economic program can counteract the frustration in the city's ghettos. For social peace cannot exist in a vacuum; it is a byproduct of justice obtained.
I therefore call upon you to meet with the representatives of the Negro and Puerto Rican communities to present now your concrete proposals for implementing the programs that Negro and Puerto Rican leaders urged upon you since last summer—-the same proposals that Dr. King and I emphasized in three days of discussion with you and your aides.
I repeat: better to have a well planned spring than a long, hot summer once again.