When you think of the 1963 March on Washington, who is the first person that you think of? It’s probably Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, someone had to organize the march right. His name was Bayard Rustin, whom you’ve probably never heard much about.
He is partly responsible for Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent protest approach which he learned by observing Ghandi’s peaceful protests in India. Before Rustin arrived in Montgomery, Alabama to assist with the boycott, Martin Luther King Jr. had not personally embraced nonviolence. It was stated that in fact that Martin Luther King Jr. had guns in the home and armed guards posted outside of his home. Rustin persuaded leaders to take a nonviolent approach.
The decision to name Rustin as the chief organizer of the March on Washington was nothing less than controversial. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP highly criticized the choice. Wilkins believed that Rustin’s former membership in the Communist party would make him an easy target for the Right-Wing press. His sexuality was also an issue as well. However, Martin Luther King Jr. and Phillip Randolph believed that Rustin was the best man for the job. Rustin served as Martin Luther King Jr.’s main advisor and co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
However, Bayard Rustin was an openly gay man, which was way more unacceptable than it is today. Rustin was “silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, and imprisoned, and fired from important leadership positions, because of his sexuality and his refusal to join the army.