The famous "I Have a Dream" speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington is deservedly remembered as the most potent moment of the civil rights struggle, but Bayard Rustin was the behind-the-scenes architect of that historic event. Rustin "had made significant contributions to a number of movements for African freedom and to the global struggle for human rights," Jervis Anderson notes, but "achieved no significant power in his career. Part of the reason was the breadth and variety of his political involvements." Rustin was a conscientious objector to World War II, worked with the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, participated in A. Phillip Randolph's 1941 Washington protest march, and was a founding member of the Congress of Racial Equality. But another reason for his comparative obscurity is that many of his colleagues feared that public knowledge of his homosexuality would undermine the broader civil rights movement.
Anderson skillfully uncovers Rustin's complicated history, from his West Chester, Pennsylvania, birth in 1912 and black Quaker upbringing to his ideological move from communism to social democracy, and restores to public memory a vital career in the history of nonviolent social activism. Rustin summarized his philosophy for change by noting that "the major aspect of the struggle comes from without. If one gets out and begins to defend one's rights and the rights of others, spiritual growth takes place. One becomes in the process of doing, in the purifying process of action." --Eugene Holley Jr.
From Publishers Weekly
With access to civil rights organizer Rustin's personal papers and the cooperation of his associates, New Yorker writer Anderson (A. Philip Randolph) has written a solid if not lyrical biography of an underappreciated black intellectual. Rustin (1912-1987) was best known as the mastermind behind the historic 1963 March on Washington, but, as Anderson explains, his interests and influence were hardly limited to civil rights. A good student and musically talented, Rustin adopted an upper-class British accent during his Pennsylvania boyhood, and his Quaker faith shaped his career as an acolyte of A. Philip Randolph and the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). He tested segregation laws as an FOR organizer and was unfazed by a prison sentence for conscientious objection during WWII. After his career with FOR was derailed in 1953 by a morals charge?the charming Rustin was gay?he allied himself with Martin Luther King Jr., helping strengthen King's Gandhian precepts and tactics. After the 1963 march, however, the pragmatic Rustin found himself opposing young militants at the 1964 Democratic convention as well as both black power activists and black studies programs. While he supported organized labor and denounced anti-Semitism in his last two decades, Rustin found himself increasingly isolated from black leaders. However, as Anderson explains, Rustin's humane vision?which included crusades for African independence and against nuclear weapons?aimed ultimately to serve the black struggle. Though Anderson, who once worked for Rustin, offers no personal recollections here, he does convey the measure of a man whose generosity and coalition-building are sorely needed today. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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