Changing America and Bayard Rustin as we head to D.C. to rally for marriage equality


Posted by Melanie Nathan, March 18, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 10.58.28 AMOn Bayard’s 101st birthday (March 17), we are well into the 50th anniversary year of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Many consider the March the highpoint of the African-American civil rights movement, and it is certainly the finest example of Bayard’s organizing genius.  If you are visiting Washington, DC, before September 15th, be sure to see “Changing America,” at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.  The exhibit, a collaborative effort with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, celebrates both the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Bayard is featured prominently, and the exhibit includes a gold pocket watch presented to him by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in appreciation for his leading role in organizing the March. For more information visit the Smithsonian website.

Some have sponsored and/or attended events during the last year — screenings of the award winning film Brother Outsider:The Life of Bayard Rustin, book events for Michael Long’s I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters, as well as conferences and seminars.  We are grateful for our allies who are helping to spread the word about Bayard and his ideas, and who are also advocating for the work that remains in building a more equitable and just society.

During Black History Month, Nancy Kates, Bennett Singer, Walter Naegle, and Prof. Hasan Jeffries of Ohio State University appeared on the National Public Radio program “All Sides” with Ann Fisher for a lively hour of discussion.  If you missed it, the program can be accessed here on their website.

A recent Huffington Post column jointly written by Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, and Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign celebrated Bayard’s courageous activism in the decade before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the work their two organizations are doing to promote equal rights for all. For the full text, click here.

San Franisco LGBT activists Andrea Shorter also attended the Marin Human Rights Commission MLK Jr. Gala Awards Dinner as keynote speaker and spoke to  guests, youth and adult awardees about the work of Rustin, and the context of Rustin as a gay man at that time.

The National Black Justice Coalition’s (NBJC) Bayard Rustin 2013 Commemoration Project was launched on January 25th at their national mobilization meeting for LGBTQA participation in the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Veteran activist Mandy Carter met with LGBTQ and allied activists from across the nation at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s “Creating Change” conference in Atlanta.  Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC’s Executive Director has been an eloquent voice in raising awareness of Bayard’s contributions to the struggle for equality for all, and lifting up his unique position as a link between the struggle for African-American and LGBTQ civil rights.  She recently joined Bennett Singer and Walter Naegle on panels following screenings of Brother Outsider.   On one occasion they were joined by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who fondly recalled Bayard as a mentor, and spoke passionately about their working together on the 1963 event.  A variety of events will be taking place in Washington from August 24-28, including a 10th anniversary screening of Brother Outsider.  Further details will be included in future updates.  In the meantime you can keep abreast of developments by visiting the NBJC’s commemorative page and also the home pages of organizations involved in the original event (SCLC, NAACP, National Urban League).

In February, Brother Outsider was broadcast on the national PBS series America ReFramed.  The film was also included in the first-ever LGBTI film festival held in Botswana.  This event was particularly significant because Botswana’s penal code criminalizes homosexuality and states that same-sex activity is punishable by up to seven years in prison.  For more on this festival, visit Identity Kenya.

Last week, Michael Long devoted his Huffington Post column to Bayard, drawing on letters published in I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters.  He cites a number of entries from different periods of Bayard’s life.  To read the column click here.

Lastly, we are hoping that President Obama will award a Medal of Freedom to Bayard to honor his life’s work. Given the content of his inaugural address, and the upcoming anniversary, we are encouraged. We have enlisted some powerful allies in this effort. If you would like to lend your voice, please write a letter or e-mail suggesting that Bayard be honored with the nation’s highest civilian honor to: President Barack Obama, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500  or  submit your request at

Thank you for all of your help and support. Please continue to let us know about future events that you would like posted on the website and the Brother Outsider Facebook Page.

On March 26th and 27th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases, respectively,  which are fundamentally about whether same-sex couples, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans should have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else.  The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will make rulings by June, on whether or not it is constitutional for the federal government to deny a minority of U.S. citizens’ rights and privileges under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and whether or not to uphold the decision striking down Prop 8, where a majority of Californians voted to take rights away from a targeted minority.


A message from our friends at the Bayard Rustin Commemoration Project. Visit for more information.

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