"A vital addition to the history of the civil rights movement by an exceptionally determined, vital and creative force who was invaluable to Martin Luther King Jr and A. Philip Randolph among many others."—Nat Hentoff
"Rustin was a life-long agitator for justice. He changed America—and the world—for the better. This collection of his letters makes his life and his passions come vividly alive, and helps restore him to history, a century after his birth. I Must Resist makes for inspiring reading."—John D’Emilio, author of Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
"Bayard Rustin's courageously candid letters, most of which have never before been available to researchers, provide fascinating glimpses into the private life of one of history's most reticent public figures."—Clayborne Carson, Founding Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University
"These letters—poetic, incisive, passionate, and above all political in the broadest meaning of the word—span almost four decades not only of Bayard Rustin’s life but of the emotional and spiritual life of America. There is hardly a social justice movement during this time in which Rustin was not involved from pacifism to ending poverty to battles for sexual freedom. Michael Long’s brilliant editing has created a compelling historical narrative and reading these letters is to be witness to the ever-evolving conscience that guides our country’s endangered, but surviving, commitment to freedom."—Michael Bronksi, author of A Queer History of the United States
"Bayard Rustin was a committed but very complicated person. This marvelously annotated collection of letters explain the spirit, and evolution of the thoughts and actions of an often overlooked key figure in the 20th century civil and human rights movement."—Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine Segal Professor of American Social Thought, University of Pennsylvania, and former Chair United States Commission on Civil Rights
"I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters provides fascinating insights into Bayard Rustin’s activist life. It includes hundreds of letters in Rustin's own words that reveal his tireless and brave efforts to promote American civil rights, as well as his personal tragedies. All aspects of Rustin’s experiences are captured in these letters, including his struggles with opponents dedicated to silencing him as an international symbol of nonviolent protests against racial injustice. This remarkable and deeply moving publication is a must-read."—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University
"The first entry in that wonderful collection of letters is a missive to a Quaker group that Rustin penned in 1942. Rustin's grandmother was a Quaker, and the letter, titled 'War is Wrong' in Long's anthology, places Rustin firmly in the long tradition of American pacifism."—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
"We know what King thought about race, poverty and war. But what was his attitude toward gay people, and if he was alive today would he see the gay rights movement as another stage of the civil rights movement? … the debate over King’s stance toward gay rights has long divided his family and followers. That debate is poised to go public again because of the upcoming release of two potentially explosive books, one of which examines King’s close relationship with an openly gay civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin. … King would have been a champion of gay rights today because of his view of Christianity, says Michael Long, author of, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters."—CNN.com
"Despite the fact that Rustin was pivotal to the civil rights movement, including organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he is not nearly as well known as others in the movement. This collection of Rustin’s letters aims to set straight the record on his enormous influence."—Booklist
"In commemoration of the centennial of his birth, a new book, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters, has just been published. It is a volume that is rich in Rustin’s wisdom and highly relevant to today’s debates over issues from gay rights to affirmative action."—The Chronicle of Higher Education
"The letters in this book, which represent only a portion of Rustin’s prolific output, provide a detailed, vivid, and often surprising look into his life and mind. They reveal Rustin’s commitment to speaking the truth to power, which he encouraged in correspondence with students, citizens, and politicians, including every president from Truman to Reagan."—Gay & Lesbian Review
"In I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters, editor Michael G. Long assembles an impressive narrative of Rustin’s remarkable achievements, helping on this 100th anniversary of his birth to revive the complex legacy of the civil rights struggle’s hidden man."—Baltimore City Paper
"Collected from over more than four decades, these letters are a reminder that one man can make a difference. … culled with care by editor Long, who also provides scene-setting historical and cultural annotations."—Richard Labonte, The Rainbow Times
"This collection of letters sheds light on one of the great overlooked activists of the 20th century. Each letter is prefaced by a paragraph providing context, helpful for those who don’t have a deep knowledge of the events of that era. … His letters—some 150 are collected here chronologically—reveal an eloquent, persuasive activist, unafraid to challenge so-called authority figures when he encountered injustice."—Philadelphia Gay News
"The book provides insights into … important aspects of protest. The letters are an example of a political activist's tireless efforts to promote American civil rights and throw light on the struggles one has to undergo against all opposition, especially when there are ideological differences: Rustin’s strongly held views on non-violence often clashed with other Trotskyite activists who believed that change was possible only through violence. Remarkably moving in their spirit and intention, the letters symbolise dedication to a political and social purpose intended for racial justice and equality."—Shelly Walia, Frontline, India
About the Author
Long’s books have been featured or reviewed in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, Book Forum, Ebony/Jet, and many other newspapers and journals. He has appeared on C-Span and NPR, and his speaking engagements have taken him from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to the Houston Public Library in Texas, to the City Club of San Diego.
Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 August 24, 1987) was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, pacifism and non-violence, and gay rights.
In the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Rustin practiced nonviolence. He was a leading activist of the early 19471955 civil-rights movement, helping to initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge with civil disobedience racial segregation on interstate busing. He recognized Martin Luther King, Jr.'s leadership, and helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen King's leadership; Rustin promoted the philosophy of nonviolence and the practices of nonviolent resistance, which he had observed while working with Gandhi's movement in India. Rustin became a leading strategist of the civil rights movement from 19551968. He was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was headed by A. Philip Randolph, the leading African-American labor-union president and socialist. Rustin also influenced young activists, such as Tom Kahn and Stokely Carmichael, in organizations like the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
After the passage of the civil-rights legislation of 19641965, Rustin focused attention on the economic problems of working-class and unemployed African Americans, suggesting that the civil-rights movement had left its period of "protest" and had entered an era of "politics", in which the Black community had to ally with the labor movement. Rustin became the head of the AFLCIO's A. Philip Randolph Institute, which promoted the integration of formerly all-white unions and promoted the unionization of African Americans. Rustin became an honorary chairperson of the Socialist Party of America in 1972, before it changed its name to Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA); Rustin acted as national chairman of SDUSA during the 1970s. During the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin served on many humanitarian missions, such as aiding refugees from Communist Vietnam and Cambodia. He was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti when he died in 1987.
Rustin was a gay man who had been arrested for a homosexual act in 1953. Homosexuality was criminalized in parts of the United States until 2003 and stigmatized through the 1990s. Rustin's sexuality, or at least his embarrassingly public criminal charge, was criticized by some fellow pacifists and civil-rights leaders. Rustin was attacked as a "pervert" or "immoral influence" by political opponents from segregationists to Black power militants, and from the 1950s through the 1970s. In addition, his pre-1941 Communist Party affiliation was controversial. To avoid such attacks, Rustin served only rarely as a public spokesperson. He usually acted as an influential adviser to civil-rights leaders. In the 1970s, he became a public advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes.
In August 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.