Bayard Rustin: Who Is This Man?

August 28th, 1963 will forever be tied to Martin Luther King Jr.’s hallowed “I Have a Dream Speech.” This historic moment would probably have never come to fruition if it weren’t for a man standing in King’s shadow, Mr. Bayard Rustin.   Bayard Rustin was a man with a number of seemingly incompatible labels: black, gay, Quaker . . . identifications that served to earn him as many detractors as admirers. Although he had numerous passions and pursuits, his most transformative act, one that certainly changed the course of American history, was to counsel MLK on the use of non-violent resistance.

Rustin also helped to engineer the March on Washington and frame the Montgomery bus boycott.  With such lofty achievements, why isn’t Rustin considered an icon of both Civil Rights and humanity?   Why is Rustin not synonymous with Civil Rights? How could a person who changed the course of American history not be a household name? Was he purposely kept out of the history books? On State of the Re:Union, host Al Letson normally sets out to take listeners to a specific place, but for this special, the program takes the audience to a specific time in history that shapes the way we live now. More than just a Black History Month special, we found his complex story one for all seasons.


  • Bayard Rustin in Pictures

  • The Debt

  • Wow. “The most important civil rights leader you’ve never heard of” for sure. I’m Canadian/Quebecoise, and am fascinated by history, documentaries, activism… and cannot believe I have never even heard this man’s name, let alone his story. Thank you for sharing this online.

    The passion in Al Letson’s voice is phenomenal and brings the story alive as much as the research, the music, and the structure of this piece.

  • Diepiriye Kuku-Siemons

    A real, uniquely American hero. Can you imagine his courage. Unbelievable indeed.


  • Penny Christensen

    Thank you for replaying this one this morning – I had my Driveway Moment already on the way into work.

  • Leigh

    Just heard this today and am amazed! Also delighted to find your show. Thank you so much for telling this story of unbelievable courage and tenacity. Wow. Loved it.

  • Tithing Lie

    I have loved this brother since I first discovered him in 1984! Thank you Brother Bayard for the focus on Non-Violent resistance. Long before Dr. King was even familiar with the concept – you and three other white students had already had success with the method. As much as I respect Malcolm X – his strategy during the Nation of Islam years would have been a bloody and epic failure, so I think God for your wisdom. The are no holidays for you, no statues, no songs, and Schools named after you, but if it wasn’t for your brilliance we would still live under an Apartheid. Thank you Bayard Rustin.

    • k9gardner

      But there ~are~ schools named after him! There’s Bayard Rustin School for the Humanities on West 18th Street in Manhattan (New York City). It’s about 10 blocks south of where he lived.

      And there’s also the Bayard Rustin High School in West Chester, PA, where he was born.

      I know next to nothing about this man. I knew he was associated with the civil rights struggle; but I knew damned little else. I regret this. I’m going to spend some time getting to know this man, who humbly changed the world.

  • Awesome.

  • Helen Azevedo

    I love this feature . . .What a great job! I’ve listened to it twice on air and twice on podcast. Informative, dramatic, compelling and moving . . . you hit it out of the park! Thanks!

  • Becky Byrd

    I caught most of this today, as I waking up (because just about the first thing I do when I wake up is turn on WBHM) and I just stayed in bed and listened to the rest of this show. I knew a little about Mr. Rustin; but I am really gratified to learn what I did about him, today. What an amazing man. Sharing. Thanks for the show!

  • Stansell

    This taught me a lot about how change really happens. This story is an antidote to the romanticization
    and truncation of the civil rights story. Al Jensen, I share in your excitement. Thank you!

  • Hue

    Where to find a list of the music in this program? Thanks….

  • Chip Southworth

    Al, who did the artwork in the opening frame? This show is so inspiring and human… I have listened to it four times now; an amazing portrait. Thank you Sir!

  • jm

    I was driving north out of Houston on 2/15/15 when this came on. I was fascinated because it was a story I had never heard told before and I knew nothing of this amazing man. I stopped at a gas station north of town to listen to the end of it because I knew I would drive out of range and never know the ending. I am a straight, white middle-aged libertarian and will listen to more of your stories. They are very well told and extremely interesting. Thanks for teaching me something.

  • Sara Diamond

    Thank you so much for this. I am coming to this late, I am going on a listening binge after learning you are going off-air (so sad). I have admired Bayard Rustin for years, and been confounded by his complexity, his being full of contradictions. Bayard Rustin is truly a great embodiment of Walt Whitman’s vision of America. Nice to hear George Houser’s voice, the two of them were spearheads of the American International Anti-Apartheid movement in the 1950s.

  • Stone Wall

    Thank you for this segment. Well done.

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