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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 58. Bayard Rustin through a kaleidoscope

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Bayard Rustin through a kaleidoscope

 

Although the three biographical blurbs that follow were all penned by Gay people, they show a range of writers refracting the same truths, from a judgement “othering” and sex-shaming, to an out and proud equilibrium on the importance of the man’s incredible achievements. I will present them with the least progressive-forward editorial tone first so that we may end on a high note.

 

Two points that are underplayed in all of the following entries can and should be emphasized: first, had there been no Rustin, there would have been no African American March on Washington and no “I have a dream” speech in 1963; second, it was Mrs. King’s personal, virulent and vocal anti-gay views (which are on record) that forced the Reverend King to cut ties – for reasons of bigotry – with the most important Civil Rights activist who ever lived, to that Movement’s everlasting disgrace.

 

 

 

Bayard Rustin

1912-1987

 

One of the great heroes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and mentor of Martin Luther King, Rustin and his career were ruined when his sexual promiscuity became public knowledge. He was a Quaker, an ardent follower of Gandhi’s principle of non-violence, and a conscientious objector for which he was jailed in 1944.

While serving a three-year sentence in Ashland Prison, Kentucky, he was discovered behind the curtain of the prison auditorium performing oral sex on a young Black fellow-inmate. Another such encounter took place in the machine shop, and he was heard offering to “take care” of a third inmate who interpreted this to mean “giving head.” The prison psychiatrist said of Rustin, “He presents a classical picture of a constitutional h*m*—the invert type, the high voice, the extravagant mannerisms, the tremendous conceit, the general unmanliness.”

After serving two years, he was released in 1946, moved to New York and went to work for the War Resisters League (WRL), the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), and the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience. But his sexual promiscuity did not stop. He picked up sailors on Times Square, had sex in men’s rooms, solicited men for sex in Riverside Park, and finally in 1952 was arrested in Pasadena for performing oral sex on two young white men in the back seat of their car for which he was given sixty days.

His career never recovered [sic]. Nevertheless in 1956 he traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to lead the bus boycott, a consequence of the arrest of the schoolgirl Rosa Parks. There he met Martin Luther King. It was the beginning of a relationship which John D’Emilio, Rustin’s biographer, describes as long and complex. It lasted until King’s assassination.

Although he was a spellbinding and inspirational orator, his reputation forced him into the background of the Civil Rights Movement. Senator Strom Thurmond of North Carolina had called him a “sexual pervert” and entered the charge in the Congressional Record. And when the powerful Representative from Harlem and minister of the Harlem Abyssinian Church, Adam Clayton Powell, threatened to charge King and Rustin with having a sexual affair, he had to resign as King’s advisor.

Finally in 1978 at the of fifty-eight he settled down in comfortable domesticity with Walter Neagle, a young white man of twenty-seven whom he adopted as his heir. “I spent years looking for exciting sex,” he told an interviewer, “instead of looking for a person who was compatible.”

—Clinton Elliot, [i]

2014

 

 

 

 

Rustin, Bayard

(1910 [sic] – 1987)

 

U.S. Civil Rights activist, [and] writer. Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, into a family of nine children, Rustin was raised by his grandparents and his mother, Florence. His grandmother, who was a Quaker and active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was an early influence in fostering his dedication to achieving social justice. When the Depression interrupted his college education, Rustin went to New York in 1931 and supported himself by singing in integrated cafés. Meeting Communists who supported racial equality, Rustin joined the Party and helped organize the Young Communist League from 1936 to 1941, but he left when Party officials forbade him to advocate integration in his speeches.

In 1941, Rustin redirected his energies into antiwar activities and the nascent Civil Rights Movement. He organized the New York branch of the Congress of Racial Equality and helped organize a March on Washington movement sponsored by the labor leader A. Philip Randolph. During World War II, he was imprisoned for two years as a conscientious objector. In 1947, he spent almost a month on a chain gang in North Carolina as punishment for helping organize the first freedom ride in protest of segregation on buses.

As director of Randolph’s Committee Against Discrimination in the Armed Forces, he was instrumental in obtaining the 1948 presidential order forbidding racial discrimination in the military. After being recommended by Lillian Smith, Rustin served from 1955 as Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief political advisor, strategist, and speechwriter, helping King organize all his major Civil Rights actions, most notably the watershed 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered the “I have a dream” speech.

Through much of his career, Rustin’s private life was an issue of contention for other Civil Rights leaders, including Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Roy Wilkins, as well as for his political opponents. Earlier Rustin had been arrested on same-sex “morals charges,” including a 1953 conviction in Pasadena, California, obtained through police entrapment, which resulted in a 60-day jail sentence. In 1963, shortly before the March on Washington, conservative Strom Thurmond of South Carolina took the floor of the Senate and accused him of being a Communist, a “draft dodger,” and a h*m*s*x**l [sic Clinton Elliot is correct: the hate-speech term of choice was “sexual pervert.” This is what the so-called Senator had entered into the Congressional Record, and not the H-word slur]. Despite widespread news coverage of the speech – and pressure from other civil rights activists to fire Rustin – Randolph and King stayed firm in their support of Rustin.

As director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute from 1964, Rustin was an early advocate of what came to be called “rainbow” politics, a strategic linking of the aims of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement with the struggle for racial and economic justice.

Walter Naegle was his companion, colleague, and adopted son in the last years of his life. [ii]

 

[Also see:]

 

– Bayard Rustin, Down the Line (1971)

– Bayard Rustin, Strategies for Freedom (1976)

– Jervis Anderson, Bayard Rustin: The Troubles I’ve Seen (1997)

Steve Hogan / Lee Hudson, [iii]

1998

 

 

 

 

Bayard Rustin

POLITICIAN

Born 1912 in U.S.

Died 1987

 

Bayard Rustin was an organizer and driving force of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1940s through the 1980s. In 1941 he organized protest marches for the Congress of Racial Equality. In 1947 he organized “freedom rides” to North Carolina to protest segregated buses. From 1953 to 1955 he was Executive Director of the War Resisters League. From 1955 to 1960 he was an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott, organized marches at the political conventions of 1960, and helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1963 he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. From 1964 to 1987 he was head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

At one point segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, unable to attack Rustin’s credentials as an activist, denounced him from the Senate floor as a [“sexual pervert”], a draft dodger and a communist.

Despite his central role, Rustin was sometimes kept in the background for fear of his [orientation] becoming an issue. He experienced firsthand the devastating effects of homophobia, even that of colleagues in political organizations that claimed to be seeking Human Rights for everyone. Until recently, his importance was obscured [by bigots], leading historian John D’Emilio to call Rustin the “lost prophet” of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1953 Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, California, and charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct in the backseat of a car with two other men. He eventually pleaded guilty to a single, lesser charge of “sex perversion” (as consensual [contact] was officially referred to in [the] California [law code] at the time) and served sixty days in jail. Rustin was fired [from the Congress of Racial Equality (?)] after his conviction.

As he grew older, Rustin often spoke to Gay and Lesbian groups, urging them to continue the fight for Civil Rights for all minorities.

Rustin was survived by his partner of ten years, Walter Naegle, who was also his executor and chief archivist. In recent years, Rustin’s contributions have begun to be more widely recognized. A public high school in Westtown, Pennsylvania, bears Rustin’s name. The documentary film Brother Outsider explores his life and work.

—Keith Stern, [iv]

2009

 

 

 

spacer.png

Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin

in the late 1950s

 

 

 

 

 


[i] “Bayard Rustin: 1912-1987” Clinton Elliot Hidden: The Intimate Lives of Gay Men Past and Present (Bloomington, Indiana, 2014), ps. 251-252

[ii] An earlier Mirror entry mentions how in the days before Marriage Equality several legal measures were employed (to assure spousal-rights passed on without legal repression from Courts or greedy family members), one of which included a partner adopting the other as an adult.

[iii] “Rustin, Bayard (1910 [sic] – 1987)” Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia [Steve Hogan / Lee Hudson, Editors] (New York 1998), ps. 486-487

https://archive.org/details/completelyqueerg00hoga/page/486/mode/2up

[iv] “Bayard Rustin, POLITICIAN: Born 1912 in U.S., Died 1987” Keith Stern Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders (Dallas 2009), ps. 400-401

Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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These three views of Rustin tell us at least as much about the observers as the man himself. His life is a fascinating span over tumultuous decades. In the end, Rustin’s desire for equality and inclusion will triumph over Thurmond’s hate. 

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7 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

These three views of Rustin tell us at least as much about the observers as the man himself. His life is a fascinating span over tumultuous decades. In the end, Rustin’s desire for equality and inclusion will triumph over Thurmond’s hate. 

Thank you, @Parker Owens! I quite like this technique of playing one person's take against others; a reader can learn much more than any single POV is able to provide. For me, I respond best to knowing the man found domestic happiness in the end. We all deserve that, and for his era, almost everyone said it was impossible for H-words to "overcome" their innate "self-loathing." But we've always proved them wrong, one simple lifetime at a time :yes:

Thanks again for your comments and support      

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Sometime last spring, I remember listening to an NPR podcast about Bayard Rustin. Looking back now, it strikes me that it, too, was a few individuals giving their interpretations of this man’s immeasurably important life. It was a positive podcast, the premise that Rustin was arguably one of the most important but little known civil rights architects. 
I really enjoyed these three views, but most of all I liked being reminded that he found happiness later in life.  

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On 4/17/2022 at 2:25 PM, 84Mags said:

Sometime last spring, I remember listening to an NPR podcast about Bayard Rustin. Looking back now, it strikes me that it, too, was a few individuals giving their interpretations of this man’s immeasurably important life. It was a positive podcast, the premise that Rustin was arguably one of the most important but little known civil rights architects. 
I really enjoyed these three views, but most of all I liked being reminded that he found happiness later in life.  

An important biography, there are many more trials and triumphs to this man's life. It seems to me a LGBT director needs to seriously consider a major motion picture portrayal to show them. A new generation needs to move away from the labeling of him by the sex-shamers (who, in fact, are no better than the alleged Senator who slurred him in the People's House), and show him as he was: warts, halo and all :)

Thanks once again for your comments, @84Mags   

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