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Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen Paperback – June 30, 1998

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Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (June 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520214188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520214187
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,018,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
BAYARD RUSTIN, an African-American gay man, was one of the most complex and interesting of the black intellectuals during a period of dramatic change in America. He is perhaps best known as the organizer of the 1963 march on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his memorable "I Have a Dream" speech. Although Rustin headed no civil rights organization, during most of his career he was a moral and tactical spokesman for them all. Committed to the Ghandian principle of nonviolence, he was the movement's ablest strategist and an indispensable intellectual resource for such major black leaders as Dr. King, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Dorothy Height and James Farmer. Rustin not only helped to organize the Montgomery boycott of 1955-56 but also drew up the original plan for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization that spearheaded King's nonviolent crusade.
But Rustin's career predated the more spectacular phase of the civil rights movement and was not limited to the black freedom struggle. Raised as a Quaker, he was a pacifist and human rights activist all his life, starting as an imprisoned conscientious objector during World War II and Continuing on for the next thirty years as a founding member of the Congress of Racial Equality in the 1940s to heading the A. Philip Randolph Institute in the 1960s and '70s. In his later years, he became a controversial figure in the civil rights struggle as he took issue with some of the stances of the black power and black consciousness movements.
In this landmark biography, historian and biographer Jervis Anderson gives a full account of the life of this inspiring figure. With complete access to Rustin's papers and the cooperation of Rustin's friends and colleagues, Anderson has written an enriching and insightful book on the life of one of the most important heroes of the movements for civil rights and social reform.
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I was aware of criticisms of this work: that it played down his being gay, that it under appreciated the profound influence of being a Quaker on his life, that it did not deal extensively with the impact of the 1953 arrest on the anti war organizations who piloted Rustin. Allots or less true and handled better elsewhere.
But certain parts of his life are much better handled here than elsewhere, life in West Chester PA for example. So I say it is well worth reading.
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