Op-Ed: Remembering the Legacy of a Civil Rights Pioneer
BY Joe Solmonese
March 17 2012 4:00 AM ET
One hundred years ago this Saturday, an unsung hero of the civil rights movement was born. Bayard Rustin’s contributions to the world far outweighed his credits – and his 100th birthday is an opportunity to appreciate how his lifelong fights for equality live on today.
Rustin was the key strategist in every campaign waged by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and a passionate advocate for pacifism, workers’ rights, and freedom for marginalized peoples around the world. There is not one American movement for social change that his leadership did not touch.
Rights to vote, to join a union, or to marry the person one loves are today at the forefront of the struggle to build an America that reflects its ideals. And Rustin was reliably positioned at the vanguard of these battles from the 1930s until his passing in 1987. So it’s only appropriate that we take this opportunity to pause and reflect on where our movements have traveled over 100 years and to look ahead to our future.
Today we work to stop the rollback of voting rights happening across the country – rights Rustin helped to secure through indefatigable organizing in the civil rights movement and his mentorship of Dr. King.
Today we work to end discrimination and advance marriage equality for gays and lesbians – and we do so in Rustin’s footsteps as one of the first openly gay activists.
Today we advance global and domestic human rights alongside civil rights – because Rustin broadened the conversation to speak out against South Africa apartheid, anti-Semitic Soviet power, and British colonial power in India.