“I ask that if you teach your children one new name from the heroes of black history, please let it be Bayard Rustin,” wrote Henry Louis Gates Jr. in The Root, in 2013. What Rustin believed was that we are all part of a single human family, and that all members of that family are created equal, Gates wrote. Rustin was also a pacifist, and an organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. But just before the march, Rustin created a problem for King. Here’s how that happened, according to Gates and to James Baldwin, writing in Harper’s.
Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, angry that Rustin and King were planning a march outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, warned King that if he did not drop Rustin, Powell would spread a rumor that King and Rustin were lovers. Which wasn’t true.
King called off that march. And he distanced himself from Rustin.
Gates concludes: “Of all the leaders of the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin lived and worked in the deepest shadows, not because he was a closeted gay man, but because he wasn’t trying to hide who he was.”