| ADRIAN NEIL, JR
AS WE CELEBRATE Black History month, I can’t help but think about the lack of importance and knowledge of African American history not only among youth but even adults. Many people know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Madame C.J. Walker, but what about those who remained in the shadows but still played an intricate role in not only African American history but history in general?
An example of this is Bayard Rustin. Even though I am ashamed of this, I will admit I did not know who Rustin was until I started doing research on topics for this month’s column. Honestly, not many of the African Americans who are in my life know who he was or what he did for our country.
Rustin played a vital role in the planning and execution of the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Movement. Additionally, he had an influence on the Gay Rights Movement. Rustin believed in equality for everyone and believed in standing up for what is right, in a peaceful and non-violent way. He adapted this ideology from one of his first mentors, A.J. Muste, who stated, “Violence cannot do away with violence”.
After three years of exile and with the progression of the opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin was called on to assist in the organizing of the 1963 March on Washington. Once again, there was an attempt to discredit Bayard. This time by Sen. Strom Thurmond, the segregationist (and anti-gay) politician from South Carolina, who declared the march, was being organized by a “pervert.” This time leaders stood by Rustin because Thurmond was considered a bigot. Because of the faith that movement leaders, including King, had in Rustin, the march was the successful touchstone we know today.
While there may be people who are familiar with Rustin’s story, there is still far too many who do not know his contributions. My goal here was to pay homage to a man who against all odds was not afraid to be who he was. He was someone who stood up for equal rights for all of humanity and believed it should be done peacefully. We must all follow in Rustin’s footsteps and continue to peacefully make a difference.