erik lundegaard

Friday November 04, 2011

The Bravest Man of the 20th Century?

Last week I watched “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin,” a documentary on ... well, the subtitle says it all. If you don't know Bayard Rustin, here's his New York Times obit from 1987.

Rustin was the civil rights movement before the civil rights movement. He was advocating a non-violent confrontational approach in the 1940s, more than a decade before the lunch-counter sit-ins in Greensboro and Nashville. He was engaged in freedom rides more than a decade before “the Freedom Rides” of 1961. He also organized a little thing called the March on Washington in August 1963. 

So why isn't he better known? Look at the Times' obit. The piece is 41 paragraphs but this isn't mentioned until the 40th paragraph: 

In an interview published in The Village Voice on June 30, Mr. Rustin was quoted as saying he was homosexual. Asked in the interview how this and his 1953 arrest and subsequent sentence of 60 days in Pasadena, Calif., on a morals charge had affected his civil rights work, he said that '‘there was considerable prejudice amongst a number of people I worked with,’' although they would not admit it.

Born in 1912, Rustin was both black and openly gay, and his homosexuality was used against him several times during the civil right movement. It marginalized him—an early, dynamic leader—and yet, even with this marginalization, he still did what he did. 

I'm curious: Did Rustin ever meet up with James Baldwin, who was both black and openly gay? What was that meeting like? Could someone write a play about it?

“Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin” isn't a great doc, but its subject, Rustin, is a great subject. Someday someone will get it right.

Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King at the March on Washington, 1963

Rustin, with glasses, behind MLK during the “I Have a Dream” speech. Sadly, King wasn't always behind Rustin.

Posted at 11:52 AM on Friday November 04, 2011 in category Movies - Documentaries  
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