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northanger
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An Indispensable Gay Man

An Indispensable Gay Man

by Nat Hentoff; photo by Walter Naegle

[Bayard Rustin] was his own man. Wherever he was, he stood at a rakish angle to it. —Midge Decter

The truth that one truly believes is in action ... We will not tolerate the beating of black people any longer. We will stay in the damn streets until every Negro in this country can vote. —Bayard Rustin

A wiretap was instituted on Bayard Rustin, 340 West 28th St., New York City. Rustin is a prominent adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and a known sexual pervert. —FBI field report, November 15, 1963

On Monday, January 20 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), the Public Broadcasting Service (Channel 13 in New York) will air Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. This long-due tribute vividly brings back to life a man who deeply and brilliantly influenced the course of the civil rights and peace movements.

Because Bayard never hid that he was gay, he was abandoned, for a time, by leaders of both movements in this country. He died in 1987, and late last year, hundreds of residents of West Chester, Pennsylvania, where Rustin was born, signed petitions protesting the decision of the school board to name a new high school after him.

As the Associated Press reported on December 16, these indignant citizens "said Rustin shouldn't be honored because he was briely a member of a Communist youth group in the 1930s, and because he was openly gay." (Next week: the result of that protest.)

Brother Outsider, produced and directed by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer, among others, for the always uncategorizable P.O.V. series, is a thoroughly honest portrait of Bayard and his tumultuous times. I knew him for most of those years, reporting for the Voice and others on his prodigious skills as an organizer. He was also a mentor for me, except when we disagreed about his silence on the Vietnam War. It was only later that I fully realized his reasons for that silence—which contrasted with the outspokenness of Martin Luther King Jr., who was severely criticized by a number of black civil rights leaders for coming out strongly against the war instead of continuing to focus only on the black agenda here. {continue}

Links: I have a dream today | I Have a Dream @ wikipedia | March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom | Bayard Rustin | Boycott | Who are these Black Republicans?

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

More Links: W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center via cnulan | Seven Great Ideas for Movement Builders via niggerati.net | Grace Lee Boggs | Mahatma Gandhi @ wikipedia

Shridharani came to Columbia University in 1934 at the age of 22 with a scholarship from the government of India. He is briefly referred to in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 New York, Simon and Schuster, 1968, p. 171 as having had a role in the late 1930's or early 1940's, especially in the education of Bayard Rustin, who later became one of the mentors and aides of Martin Luther King, Jr. —The Religious Origins of AHIMSA: A Twentieth Century Distillation

"The pacifists fail," Shridharani wrote in 1939, "because they regard peace as an end in itself. As a result, they minimize the significance of other human values, though they may be subjective, such as freedom and justice, which roil people's blood and cause great social and political upheavals. The pacifists' dream is just a pious wish with underpinnings of mere 'good will.' Naive in their conception of human nature, they refuse to take into consideration the pluralistic genius of the human psyche. When their hope of peace is frustrated in the process of social change, as often happens, they are in a dilemma. The demand for social change offers them but one alternative, viz., that of upholding the violent method or of maintaining the status quo. There is no other choice left them, for the pacifists fail to realize that something more than good will is required to grease the wheels of a changing order." —PropaGandhi Ahimsa in Black America

In 1934, Krishnalal Shridharani (1911-1960) arrived in New York City to study at Columbia University. A veteran of Gandhi’s 1930 Salt March and of his university, Gujarat Vidyapith, Shridharani spent over a decade in the United States as a student and as a popular interpreter of Gandhianism. In three important books Shridharani (an otherwise accomplished Gujarati fiction writer) tried to announce the view of nonviolence he learnt at the feet of Gandhi. —PropaGandhi Ahimsa in Black America

Bayard Rustin seems to have incorporated philosophical elements of Farmer's CORE, Muste's FOR, and Randolph's MOWM. Like Muste, Rustin had renounced secular radicalism for Christian activism. On a bus trip through Tennessee, he refused to sit at the back and ended up in jail. In his article "The Negro and Nonviolence," written in October 1942, Rustin rejects what he called the "pink tea" protests of the black middle class and white intellectuals. He argued for what he called "nonviolent direct action." Rustin, the intermediary among several U.S. protest groups, was also an intermediary in his understanding of Gandhian nonviolence: he demystified it and put it into practice. He also placed something of a Christian likeness on it, which neither CORE nor MOWM did. —Passage from India: How Westerners Rewrote Gandhi's Message

Tags: bayard rustin, civil rights, ghandi, mlk, nat hentoff, nonviolence
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