Quote of the day

"We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing. "

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who was that gay man who organized the 1963 Civil Rights march on Washington?

By Nick Gier. Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho

As a politically active black man in 1950s and 1960s, Bayard Rustin had, in addition to his race, three strikes against him: he was a pacifist; he was a Communist; and he was openly homosexual.In 1936 Rustin became a member of the Young Communist League, but he broke with the party when it decided to deemphasize civil rights in favor of supporting the Soviet Union in the war.During World War II he began his long association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a pacifist organization founded in 1914 by an English Quaker and a German Lutheran. His grandmother, who raised him, was a Quaker, but she and her grandson attended a local African Methodist Episcopal Church.From 1944 to 1946 Rustin served 28 months in a federal penitentiary for refusing to report for military service. While in prison he worked diligently to end segregation in the prison dining hall.Rustin was an all-inclusive civil rights worker. He traveled to California to protect the property of Japanese Americans who had been interned during the war. While in prison he established the FOR's Free India Committee, and he later convinced Martin Luther King, Jr. to follow Gandhi’s principle of active nonviolence. In 1947 Rustin led a FOR attempt to integrate the interstate bus system. In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he and his associates were set upon by a mob, but it was he, rather than his attackers, who served 22 days of hard labor for "inciting" this incident.In 1953 he was arrested for having sex with two other men. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision decriminalizing sodomy, no one can be arrested for consensual sex of any sort in today's America. The Texas law that was truck down was particularly discriminatory in that it did not outlaw "unnatural" sex acts between heterosexuals.Because of the gay sex charge, Rustin was fired from the FOR staff. Even though under this dark cloud, King nonetheless took him on as an adviser in 1956. As a seasoned civil rights worker, his experience was crucial to the success of the Montgomery bus boycott.Rustin biographer John D’Emilio writes that Rustin "was the perfect mentor for King at this stage in the young minister’s career. . . and in the ensuing months and years, Rustin left a profound mark on the evolution of King’s role as a national leader."Rustin convinced King that he needed a permanent organization to stabilize his movement, so together they founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). When black Congressman Adam Clayton Powell threatened to expose him as a gay man, Rustin was forced to resign his SCLC leadership position.Working behind the scenes, Rustin was the main organizer for the 1963 March of Washington, the venue for King’s “I have a Dream” speech. The other organizers made sure that Rustin was not given any public credit for this historic event.Supplied with FBI wire tap information and dirt from segregationist legislators, Senator Strom Thurmond gave a speech in the Senate in which he called Rustin a "Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual." For the very first time someone came to Rustin’s defense. Labor leader A. Philip Randolph attested to Rustin’s integrity, and the fact that Thurmond's attack fizzled produced a glimmer of hope that equal rights for gays and lesbians might be possible.Rustin advised King not to speak out against the Vietnam war, but King did it anyway. Friends were puzzled why this fervent pacifist did not join the anti-war movement. His response was that he was against a precipitous withdrawal of troops because the Communists would set up a brutal dictatorship.Rustin also reminded his supporters where his duty ultimately lay: "To those who have urged me to switch from civil rights to peace, let me say: Someday, God help us, this war will be over, and my job is to help see to it that when the black soldiers come home, they will have something decent to come home to." Rustin preferred to keep his "eyes on the prize."Rustin's last civil rights battle was for his gay brother and sisters: "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community, the community which is most easily mistreated."Nick Gier taught philosophy and religion at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read his other civil rights columns at http://www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/civil.htm


Anonymous said...

This is interesting background information and could be presented in a social studies class or other curriculum involving the civil rights movement and non-violent approaches to conflict, as well as discrimination.

However, it also moves the focus away from the most critical factor in our current problem. That factor is the poor, even incompetent, handling and oversight, of this situation from start through present, by the school administration.

Randy Taylor, Beth Castle, Joel Aune and the teacher who approved the participation of Mr. Hutcherson (was this Mr. Kinnune?) require scrutiny and supervision by the School Board, which, to date, has not been forthcoming, and instruction in how to uphold the laws of the State of Washington and how to create, maintain and foster a safe learning environment for all students.

Letters of apology to Mr. Hutcherson were not an appropriate response.

Lay this mess at the feet of those whose poor judgment created it in the first place.

And when and where you can, set the record straight that Mr. Hutcherson was NOT booed while he was talking, rather while others were clapping when he walked to the podium while being introduced.

And he was not shouted down. The question about equal rights for all people not just for some people was asked AFTER Mr. Hutcherson had finished speaking and the student emcee had the microphone.

Mr. Hutcherson was on the podium because school officials allowed him to be the speaker. Focus on how and why that process worked as it did, and why it was flawed and failed.

Putting some kind of letter of discipline in the two teachers' files, after letters of apology to Hutcherson is a totally unacceptable manner to resolve and defuse this debacle.

Is anyone out there continuation to question and pressure the administration to seek the help they need to do the job we pay them to do?

Anonymous said...

However, it also moves the focus away from the most critical factor in our current problem. That factor is the poor, even incompetent, handling and oversight, of this situation from start through present, by the school administration.

I disagree. This point is quite germaine to the current issue. It highlights MLK's close personal involvement with this man who was openly homosexual. It further clarifies the irony of having Mr. Hutcherson speak on MLK day.

And yes, we are and will continue to pursue a proper course of action by the school district.

I for one will suport legal action against the district if the board is unable or unwilling to do their job. At the least, an investigation by the State Office of Public Instruction may be in order.

If the district thinks that their lack of action will make this go away, they are sadly mistaken.

Dan Ferland
MSHS Parent

GSA parent said...

I completely agree that more people should know about this...but wait! we better be careful!...it might not fit in with a teacher's specific curriculum, help a student pass the WASL, or directly contribute to college acceptance. Yikes! According to way too many parents and students at the board meeting, then it doesn't belong in the classroom. Surely this piece of history is too controversial for teenagers to think about...