The 1963 March on Washington was a collaborative effort between several landmark organizers from as many prominent civil rights groups. At the same time, the original idea came from A. Philip Randolph and the March’s keynote speaker is famously Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the most vital coordinating force behind the march came from a man named Bayard Rustin.
Rustin has been characterized as “a brilliant strategist of nonviolent direct action protests.” His reputation and relationship with Randolph got him the position of Deputy Director of the March. There are also several photographs of Rustin standing alongside Dr. King. So why is it that only one influential Black civil rights leader is reliably recognized?
Despite Rustin’s expertise with pacifism and mass organization, his homosexuality limited how far he could go. The March on Washington was a triumph after years of accusations and tarnished reputations.
In one specific instance, homophobia was weaponized against Bayard Rustin to intimidate Dr. King and Co. from marching on JFK’s 1960 Democratic National Convention. King was told that if he did not call off the march protesting the disappointing position on civil rights, he would be accused of having an affair with known homosexual Bayard Rustin.
The threats led Dr. King to distance himself from Rustin. The decision was a political move and a personal betrayal that created further distrust that even the 1963 March couldn’t undo. Rustin would forever be an organizer working behind the scenes.
SOURCES: NPS site, History.com, protest career.
Written by Communications and Marketing Intern, Elizabeth Carr