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Black History Month: 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)

February is Black History Month; originally started as a way to educate people about Black Americans and their contributions, successes, and struggles, it has continued to be a time for acknowledging, commemorating, and appreciating the role of Black people and Black communities in the history of the United States. We have Black organizers to thank for the birth of many modern-day programs that enact community care. Their bravery, creativity, compassion and commitment to the service others are critically important values that we strive to embody in our work today. The legacy of Black Americans should be celebrated and honored; the achievements, accomplishments, and contributions of the Black community must be kept alive. Their stories are a critical part of our history and our work of growing food justice today and tomorrow. Follow along as we highlight different Black folks and organizations during Black History Month.

Meet Bayard Rustin. Rustin was an LGBTQ+ and civil rights activist organizing during the Civil Rights Movement. He was a friend and close advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who helped orchestrate the March on Washington.  

Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was strongly influenced by his grandmother, an early NAACP member. His organizing was shaped by his mentor, Philip Randolph, a socialist who founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porter, a Black Labor Union. He later worked with Randolph on various marches in Washington, DC, to protest segregation and was recommended by Randolph to head the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In 1947, Rustin and George Houser, executive secretaries of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), organized the Journey of Reconciliation, the first Freedom Rides. The Rides were intended to test the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on racial discrimination in interstate travel. Rustin was arrested for violating state laws regarding segregated seating on public transportation and served twenty-two days on a chain gang. 

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 saw a shift in his focus and unwavering efforts toward human rights, including the gay rights movement. During the 70s and 80s, he served as a dedicated human rights and election monitor for Freedom House. Additionally, he provided valuable testimony in support of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill.