Bayard Rustin

  2nd February 1964: American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (1912 - 1987), spokesman for the Citywide Committee for Integration, at the organization's headquarters at Silcam Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, New York City. (Photo by Patrick A. Burns/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

Bayard Rustin in Trafalgar Square, London. Courtesy of Walter Naegle

When

1963

Where

Washington DC, USA

Context

The March on Washington

When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a leader and key strategist of the civil rights movement and the UK peace movement: a skilled organiser whose advocy of non-violence greatly influenced Martin Luther King. As an openly gay Quaker pacifist who’d refused to fight in the Second World War, and a one-time member of the Communist party, Rustin faced hostility from many, including some within the movement. In response, Rustin concluded he would be more effective in a behind-the-scenes role, leading TIME Magazine to call him ‘the invisible man’ and ‘unknown hero’ of the American freedom struggle.

Bayard Rustin speaks. Courtesy of Bennett Singer, co-producer of Brother Outsider
  • Read audio transcript of Bayard Rustin speaks

    Speaker 1:

    I now bring to you the Executive Director of the March on Washington, the man who organized this whole thing, Mr Bayard Rustin.

    Bayard:

    The first demand is that we have effective civil rights legislation – no compromise, no filibuster – and that it include public accommodation, decent housing, integrated education, FEPC* and the right to vote. What do you say?

    *Fair Employment Practices Commission

Bayard Rustin, deputy director, and Cleveland Robinson, chairman of Administrative Committee, March on Washington.
Photo courtesy of Walter Naegle

On August 28th 1963, Rustin was the principle, meticulous organiser of one of the major demonstrations of the civil rights movement when 250,000 people – black and white, of every ‘race’, creed and orientation – descended on Washington DC to protest against the gross inequalities that African-Americans still faced in American society. This was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; a pivotal moment of the civil rights movement, and the occasion when Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech.

In 2013, Rustin was posthumously awarded the USA’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of freedom for his “especially meritorious” contribution to American society.

Bayard Rustin in Trafalgar Square, 1983. Photo courtesy of Walter Naegle.

Stop the rain

Justice justice,
I can’t fight alone,
I can’t rid this pain.
Justice justice
I need help.
Justice justice
Please stop the rain.
Xenophobia is not an option,
According to the law.
But we see it today, we see it in history,
Think of Stephen Lawrence, Rosa Parks and millions more.
This is not fair. People need care.
There shouldn’t be racism there shouldn’t be treason.
Stop the subversion.
Justice justice,
I can’t fight alone,
I can’t rid this pain.
Justice justice
I need help
Justice justice
Please stop the rain.

Why are people segregated from each other?
And kids around the world separated from their mother?
Is it worth the killing?
Bruising and blood spilling?
People are dying
People are crying
Newspapers are lying.

Justice justice,
I want justice.
I want support from the world around,
I cannot bear the pain of my sorrows anymore.
Justice justice,
I can’t fight alone,
I can’t rid this pain.
Justice justice
I need help
Justice justice
Let us unite
Justice justice let’s put up a global FIGHT!

– JtoJ Poetry Club, George Mitchell High School, Leyton, east London

This poem was inspired by Stephen Lawrence’s murder, urging people to accept history but to create change to stop racism.