When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to more than 200,000 Americans at the Lincoln Memorial, a man stood quietly behind the stage. His name is Bayard Rustin, and he was MLK’s right hand man. His work and dedication were indispensable to the events that were unfolding in that moment.
Working without the modern conveniences, Rustin and his team worked tirelessly to invite people into the civil rights movement which happened on August 28, 1963. He worked for almost eight weeks writing letters and calling people on the phone.
Despite fighting prejudice against him (because of his race and sexual orientation), Rustin kept all of his issues hidden behind the composure of a man whose battle involved the whole country. Bayard Rustin was a gay man making him a target not only for his race, but for his sexuality. It was more so, even when you advocate racial discrimination and equality.
During his younger years, Rustin with various organizations that advocated for socialism and racial equality. But through the course of his membership, he left because of ideological differences or was fired because of personal issues. It was his sexual orientation that forced him into the backseat of history.
Bayard Rustin becomes Martin Luther King’s political adviser
With his efficient strategies and organizational skills, MLK took Rustin under his wing. Rustin became his political adviser despite his sexual orientation. During the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Rustin’s personal truth was forced into the limelight. Adam Clayton Powell, a New York politician and representative, threatened King using Rustin’s sexual orientation as blackmail. Powell wanted the March to disband because of the Democratic Party did not support the Civil Rights Movement as part of their party platform and Powell feared the show could hurt their political amibitions. Powell was to accuse King and Rustin of having an affair. Because of this, MLK distanced himself from Rustin. But despite the issues they both faced, King and Rustin continued to work together for years.
Former President Barrack Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 for his contribution to the civil rights activism.