In celebration of Bayard Rustin’s having received the posthumous Mdal of Freedom on November 20, 2013, this is one of a series of posts compiled by Ann Yasuhara.
Timeline for Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
1912, March 17: Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Childhood: Brought up by his grandparents; grandmother is a social activist and a
Quaker; many prominent blacks visit the Rustin home including W.E.B.DuBois. BR
has a great talent for music; music remains important throughout his life; he was a
1932: Graduates with honors from West Chester High School where he had been an
outstanding scholar and athlete in track and football. During high school years he
organizes sit-ins in local segregated restaurants and theaters. (In 2006 a new high
school, the Bayard Rustin High School, opens in West Chester.)
1932, Sept: Goes to Wilberforce University in Ohio on a music scholarship. The food
is terrible so he organizes a protest by students; objects to ROTC; administration
asks him to leave the school.
1934: Drops out of W.U. and enrolls at Cheyney State Teachers College, near West
1936: Officially declares himself a Quaker and pacifist.
1936: Leaves Cheyney State without a degree.
1937: Moves to New York City and becomes part of the Harlem black culture scene.
1938: Enrolls at City College of New York.
1940: Joins the Young Communist League (YCL).
1940 winter-1941 spring: Works with A. Philip Randolph to plan a March on
Washington Movement against racial discrimination in defense industries and
armed forces. When Pres. Roosevelt bans discrimination in war-related industries
and establishes a Fair Employment Practice Committee to monitor compliance, but
does not desegregate the armed forces, Randolph cancels the march, though BR
disagrees. BR and Randolph will be important to each other henceforth.
1941, summer: Quits YCL; fall: joins the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and
under A.J. Muste who was a leader in non-violent activism. Randolph and Muste
were BR’s most important mentors over the years.
1942: FOR launches the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) that is dedicated to
using nonviolent direct action to achieve racial integration in American society; BR
becomes one of its leaders.
1942: Beaten and arrested for riding in the front of a bus from Louisville to
1944: Sentenced to 3 years in Federal prison for refusing alternative service as a
conscientious objector to war.
1944 Feb – 1946 June: While serving his time in prison, BR organizes protests
against racial segregation in the prisons.
1947: Volunteers for the CORE sponsored Journey of Reconciliation ride – mixed
race ride on buses through the south to test compliance with the new Federal ruling
against segregation on interstate transportation; beaten and arrested in Chapel Hill
NC for taking part in this action.
1948: Randolph and BR threaten Pres. Truman with a March on Washington if the
military is not desegregated. In July Truman issues an executive order prohibiting
discrimination in the military and the march is canceled.
1948: Travels to India to meet Gandhi’s followers; Gandhi had recently been
1949, spring: BR serves 22 days on a chain gang in NC for engaging in civil
disobedience during the Journey of Reconciliation. His writing about it led to the
abolition of the chain gang in NC.
1953: Arrested in California on morals charge (in connection with homosexuality)
and sentenced to 60 days in LA county Jail; resigns position with FOR; joins the War
Resisters League (WRL).
1954: Brown vs. Board of Education – Supreme Court rules that schools cannot be
1956, Feb: Joins MLK in Montgomery for bus boycott and counsels MLK in the
practice of nonviolent direct action. Fearing that his past morals charge will weaken
their work, BR quickly leaves Montgomery, continuing his support from the North.
1956: Montgomery bus boycott ends successfully.
1956, Dec-1957 Jan: Participates in formation of the Southern Christian
1958, spring: Travels to Europe for nuclear disarmament campaigns.
1959: Adam Clayton Powell publicly criticizes BR’s influence on MLK; privately
threatens to spread rumors that BR and MLK have a sexual relationship. MLK severs
ties with BR for a while.
1961: Travels to Africa to work with independence movements in Tanzania and
1961-2: BR and Malcolm X engage in a series of debates.
1962: Randolph and BR discuss the possibility of a March on Washington for civil
rights and economic justice.
1963, spring: MLK leads civil rights campaign in Birmingham.
1963, July & Aug: Civil rights leaders meet to start planning the March on
Washington for Jobs and Freedom; BR becomes the lead organizer.
1963, Aug 28: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – 250,000 participate in
the largest nonviolent protest march in nation’s history.
1964, Feb: BR organizes student-teacher boycott to protest segregation in NYC
1964, July: Civil Rights Act passed.
1964, Aug: BR urges Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to accept the Johnson
administration’s “compromise” proposal for seating its delegates. This angered (and
still does) many in the civil rights movement.
1965: Resigns from the WRL.
1965: Publishes “From Protest to Politics”, in Commentary, which stands as BR’s
explanation of what seemed to most to be a very significant change in tactics and
1965, Aug: Voting Rights Act is signed into law by Pres. Johnson in the presence of
BR. Henceforth, BR is part of the Johnson “team” because he believes that with the
Democratic Party in power, his dream for America will come true. To stay on the
team, he cannot take a stand against the war in Vietnam, even though he strongly
opposes it. He does think that the heavy focus against the war is an unnecessary
diversion from the important work of establishing a more just economy.
1965, Aug: Watts riots; other city riots follow, including Newark.
1966: The A. Philip Randolph Institute is established by trade unionists and civil
rights activists seeking real equality. BR becomes its executive secretary and is
involved with it for many years.
1966: BR and MLK take very different paths.
1968, April 4: MLK is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
1968: Is involved in NYC decentralization of schools controversy and sides with the
white dominated UFT teachers union, thus alienating the black community.
1970’s-80’s: Works for Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization that is
strongly anti-Communist, and the International Rescue Committee, which assists
refugees around the world.
1977: Meets Walter Naegle, who will be his partner for the rest of his life.
1980: Begins to speak out in favor of gay rights.
1984: Arrested for civil disobedience with the striking Clerical and Technical
Employees at Yale University soon after receiving an honorary degree.
1985-6: Lobbies New York City government on behalf of a gay rights bill, which is
Last years: BR visits Zimbabwe, Poland, Russia, Thailand, Chile, Paraguay, Haiti and
other countries always trying to foster freedom and human rights.
1987, August 23: Dies of heart failure in New York City at age 75
2013, November 20: Awarded Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama