March 17, 1910 (a Thursday)

Bayard Rustin

On this date, one of the most important leaders of the American civil rights movement from the advent of its modern period in the 1950s until well into the 1980s, Bayard Rustin, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1955 as Martin Luther King Jr.’s special assistant, serving as the organizational co-ordinator for the SCLC March on Washington in 1963.

Rustin was openly gay and advocated on behalf of gay and lesbian causes in the latter part of his career. Interestingly, a high school named for Bayard Rustin that opened in September 2006 in his home town has posted a bio for him on its website that makes no mention of Walter Nagle – his partner for 10 years – or the fact that Rustin was an openly gay man, or any of his work for gay rights.

A year before his death in 1987, Rustin said:

The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it’s the gay community.

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