Post from Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic - June 2018
African-American, Quaker, gay, singer, sportsman, pacifist, conscientious objector (and, consequently, prisoner), union organizer, civil rights icon, liberal, neoconservative … Bayard Rustin was all these things - some only for a period, and some all his life. Most importantly, his principal lifelong identity was as a fearless and relentless warrior for human rights for all.
Being all those things at once might invite compliments like "Renaissance man" or "multitasker" today, but during his lifetime (1912-1987), that package of mostly non-mainstream affinities and affiliations was guaranteed to get him in a whole heap of trouble with a lot of folks. And it did. (He was also a communist at one point.) "Brother Outsider" he was called, and he never flinched from doing what he thought was right, most of which solidified his stance as an outlier.
Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Rustin studied at Wilberforce University, a historically black college (HBCU) in Ohio, where he started his career as a rebel early - he was expelled in 1936 for organizing a strike. He later attended Cheyney State Teachers College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) and then at the City College of New York in Harlem. There he became involved in efforts to defend and free the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men in Alabama who were accused of raping two white women.
Of course, he was best known for his tireless toil for the civil rights movement, most memorably as a principal player in 1963's March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But as far back as 1941, Rustin, along with A. Philip Randolph, organized an earlier march on Washington to protest segregation in the military, which was influential even though it was later called off. He also helped create the very first freedom ride - the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 to protest racial discrimination in interstate travel. For this he was arrested and forced into a prison chain gang. Bayard Rustin was an American pioneer and pathfinder. Indeed, over the past few years, numerous historical accounts and books recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have given Rustin his due as a leader in the civil rights movement.
In the 1980s, after fighting for cause after cause, Rustin turned his attentions to the gay rights movement, pointing out that gays had become the most vulnerable group, needing and deserving protection from ill treatment.
During LGBT Month, we at the EEOC should remember outsiders like Bayard Rustin who took the hardest knocks of being on the fringes of society, and fought long and hard to bring everyone inside - into the American family. When it comes to our work at the EEOC, and equal opportunity for people to work, our goal is that we should all be insiders.