Bayard Rustin, West Chester’s gay Civil Rights icon
March 12, 2012
Bayard Rustin is the leader of the Civil Rights movement whose importance is perhaps least proportional to his fame. The West Chester native was born 100 years ago Thursday, and was the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, which included Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was a pacifist who was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War II, organized the first “Freedom Rides” on segregated buses through the South, and trained the trainers who taught nonviolent civil disobedience as the method by which to dismantle the Jim Crow system of organized racist oppression. And he was openly gay, a fact that relegated him to the background when the inspiring speaker and talented singer could have been leading the charge. Joining us to discuss Rustin’s life and legacy are MICHAEL G. LONG, associate professor of Religion and Peace and Conflict Studies at Elizabethtown College and editor of the about-to-be-published collection, “I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters.” We’ll also call out to the Rev. ANDERSON PORTER, who as pastor of West Chester’s Second United Presbyterian Church in the 1960s worked with and knew Rustin.