By Frederick H. Lowe
Tuesday was the 55th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” speech, which he delivered during the March on Washington. And the man who organized the march that made the speech possible also was honored nearly a month earlier.
A plaque honoring Bayard Rustin, who organized the August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King gave his speech, was installed June 28th outside Penn South’s Building 7B, a co-op at 340 W. 28th Street in New York City, where Rustin and his partner Walter Naegle lived. About 200 individuals, including local residents and politicians, attended the ceremony, where Naegle spoke.
“Although Bayard is mostly known for his work in the struggle for African-American civil rights, his life was committed to justice and equality for all people,” he said.
Co-op officials installed the plaque to draw attention to Rustin’s work.
Civil rights movement leaders selected Rustin to be the march’s chief organizer. The march was the largest demonstration in the nation’s history and it helped to galvanize support for landmark civil rights laws. More than 250,000 people attended the march, but the Washington Post and many other newspapers ignored King’s speech.
Rustin met Dr. King during the successful Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, which began on December 4, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat on a city bus to a white man.
Jo Ann Robinson, an English instructor at Alabama State College and president of Montgomery’s Women’s Political Council, and E. D. Nixon, President of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, organized the boycott which was later led by King. The boycott ended December 20, 1956, 381 days later when Montgomery city officials ruled that blacks could sit anywhere on the buses.
Rustin became a trusted mentor and advisor to King.
Although King and Rustin were comrades in arms, their relationship was troubled because Rustin was gay, and King was uncomfortable with Rustin’s sexual orientation. Later the two were rarely in contact.
However, King wasn’t the only person in the civil rights movement who was uncomfortable with Rustin because he was a black gay man.
Rustin died August 24, 1987. He was 75.