In light of October being LGBT History Month, we will be watching the documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin for our next Living in the Tension community gathering on Monday, October 17th. We will meet at our regular location on 5255 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago a little earlier at 6:45pm.
Bayard Rustin (pictured right with Philip Randolph on the cover of LIFE), who has been called the ‘Lost Prophet‘ by historian John D’Emilio, was a leader of the civil-rights movement. He organized the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 with George Houser, which was the first of the Freedom Rides. Rustin also helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (which he was later forced to resign from because of his sexuality) and he was the chief organizer of the March on Washington in 1963. Among other accomplishments, Rustin was also an influential voice early in the movement as he helped to spread the philosophy of nonviolent resistance among Martin Luther King Jr. (primarily in 1956 after taking leave from the War Resisters League) and other leaders after spending time with Gandhi’s movement in India (1948).
As Rustin’s political opponents often attacked him as being an immoral influence and he was even criticized by fellow pacifists and civil-rights leaders because he was an openly gay man, he rarely served as a public spokesperson. He rather acted as an influential adviser to civil-rights leaders and he decided to step away from the movement for a period as there was fear that the reactions of others to his sexuality could have a negative influence on the broader movement. Senator Strom Thurmond even produced an FBI photograph of Rustin talking to King while he was bathing to try to imply that a same-sex relationship existed between the two. They both denied the allegation, but criticism and stigma around Rustin’s sexuality continued to follow him.
Despite the climate of the day with regards to homosexuality and the criticism and accusations that he faced, Bayard Rustin made significant contributions to the civil-rights movement though his role and voice has commonly been written out of history books.
You can check out the trailer for the documentary below: