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10 Things to Know: Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin will be among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom today in a ceremony at the White House. Though he died in 1987 due to a ruptured appendix, his work as the chief organizer of the groundbreaking 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom will forever live on as a hallmark moment in American civil rights movement. His legacy has remained intact largely thanks to his surviving partner, Walter Naegle. Both Rustin and Sally Ride, LGBT pioneers in their respective fields, will be posthumously honored by President Obama Wednesday with the highest honor an American civilian can receive. Here's some of what you need to know about Bayard Rustin. 

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1. Rustin's grandmother was a Quaker, which had a clear influence on his views on nonviolent resistance, peace, and equality. Later he also absorbed the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, African-American labor leader A. Philip Randolph, and labor leader and minister A.J. Muste. During World War II, Rustin worked for Randolph to fight racial discrimination in hiring for war-related jobs. Rustin was a member of several pacifist groups and was jailed twice for not registering for the draft.

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2. While at City College of New York, Rustin became an organizer for the Young Communist League. He quit in 1941 when the organization changed its focus because of World War II. He later denounced communism after he became disillusioned with the party, and joined with the democratic socialist movement.

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3. To earn money to pay for his tuition (at Wilberforce University, Cheyney State College, and the City College of New York) Rustin worked several odd jobs and sang with Josh White and His Carolinians.

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4. In 1942 he went to California on behalf of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the American Friends Service Committee to help Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned in internment camps during the war.

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5. In addition to his draft-related arrests, Rustin was arrested in North Carolina in 1947 for protesting against the segregated public transit system. He was sentenced to work on a chain gang for 22 days. He gave an account of the ordeal in a series for the New York Post.

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6. He also served 60 days in jail in 1953 for having sex with two men in a parked car in Pasadena, Calif. After his years of work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the organization demanded that Rustin resign from his position because of his arrest. Nonetheless, Rustin never denied being gay.


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