Back in Black: Small town Quaker leads civil rights groups

Bayard Rustin was born in 1912. Rustin was raised in West Chester, Penn., and was brought up as a Quaker. Not only was he a dedicated activist for human rights, he also worked diligently throughout his life, organizing several non-violent groups and marches devoted to the struggle for civil rights.

At a young age, Rustin was an excellent student, athlete and musician. He attended several institutions of higher learning such as Wilberforce University, Cheyney State College and the City College of New York. Rustin’s career as an activist began when he completed an activist training program of the American Friends Service Committee in New York in 1937.

While at City College, the Young Communist League hired him as a youth organizer to advocate an anti-war position and protest issues including racial segregation.

In 1941, Rustin started a long-lasting career with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, serving as the race relations secretary. As secretary, he traveled the country organizing Race Relations Institutes that were created to aid in the communication and cooperation of racial groups.

During the same time, Rustin became a part of A. Phillip Randolph’s March on Washington Movement and became the first field secretary of the Congress of Racial Equality. In CORE, he protested violence and segregation with the use of non-violent tactics.

Rustin’s influence before and during the Civil Rights Movement was copious, beginning in 1947 when he organized the Journey of Reconciliation. The Journey was a demonstration by several people who would defy the law by using the segregated public transit system.

This demonstration would be a model for the Freedom Rides of the 1960s.

During the 1950s and throughout the Civil Rights Movement, he worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on several demonstrations, including the Alabama Bus Boycott and organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Rustin also organized the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957, The National Youth Marches for Integrated Schools in 1958 and 1959 and was the Deputy Director and chief organizer for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

In 1964 Rustin helped found the A. Philip Randolph Institute. The institute focuses on voter registration drives and programs designed to strengthen affairs between the black community and the labor movement.

During the mid 1960s he took part in the formation of the Recruitment and Training Program, which increased the involvement of minorities in building and construction.

At the time of his death in 1987, Rustin was President of the A. Philip Randolph Educational Fund and Co-Chairman of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

He served as Chairman of Social Democrats USA, was a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and was the recipient of more than a dozen honorary doctorates.