As the nation prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, the late civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin is finally receiving some of the recognition that he has long deserved.
President Barack Obama has posthumously named Rustin as one of sixteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, "the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States."
The White House notes:
Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.
Bayard Rustin was the top lieutenant to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped him develop the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Rustin was the lead strategist and organizer behind the 1963 March on Washington, one of the seminal events of the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin's legacy will be explored by several symposiusms on August 27 and August 28 in Washington DC including the National Black Justice Coalition and the Human Rights Campaign.
Rustin was openly gay in the 1950s and early 1960s—even in the South. That is an incredible profile in courage. It's generally regarded that Rustin's open sexuality—which was very rare for his generation—is the reason why many of his accomplishments have been ignored or minimized by historians.
Other notables that will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year include baseball legend Ernie Banks, journalist and former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, President Bill Clinton, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, the late astronaut Sally Ride (who was also lesbian), feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Oprah Winfrey.
"The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours," said the President. "This year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude."
You May Have Missed:
WaPo Profiles Rustin's Legacy and Sexuality
Tributes to Bayard Rustin
Irene Monroe on Rustin and MLKs Dream
Billy Strayhorn Documentary on PBS
Brother Outsider Screenings
Black Museums Should Celebrate Gays
"Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin"