Bayard Rustin’s Masterpiece: August 28, 1963

by Susan Van Haitsma (cross-posted at her makingpeace blog at the Austin American-Statesman

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the greatest events in US history.  The anniversary, remembered mostly for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered to a quarter of a million people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, will surely be invoked by Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention today.

On this day, I like to remember the primary organizer of the historic March on Washington, Bayard Rustin.  Rustin was known for his calm, meticulous, professional handling of the myriad logistics involved in getting people to and from the march in an orderly way via bus, plane, car and train from points far and near.  He also engineered security for the march, including arranging nonviolence training for security personnel, a crucial aspect given the great apprehension among government officials that violence would erupt during the event.  

The march, the largest single-day event of its kind in US history to that date, was a huge success and a major factor toward passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year. 

Bayard Rustin was not only a highly skilled organizer, he was a skilled and experienced nonviolence trainer whose influence in the US civil rights movement at crucial times, such as the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott when MLK became involved in the movement, was pivotal.  He also was a gay man who was hounded by the FBI and segregationists like Strom Thurmond, who sought to discredit Rustin in order to thwart the March on Washington. Other organizers of the march, including A. Philip Randolph, stood by Rustin, helping to prevent Thurmond’s attacks from gaining purchase.

It was good to hear US Rep. John Lewis interviewed last night at the DNC after Barack Obama had been officially nominated.  Lewis was one of the “Big Ten” who spoke along with King on that important day in 1963, and his speech was considered one of the more fiery of the day.  He asked people to “get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.”

It is not complete, but there are still people working hard – both inside government and outside in the streets – for a nonviolent revolution of values declaring that freedom from injustice also means freedom from war. 

Photo from wikipedia