March 17, 2012 may be St. Patrick’s Day, but for Americans, we should take the time to commemorate a true American patriot.
When we talk about the civil rights movement, we talk chiefly about King, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and (maybe) Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers. But excluded from this pantheon of heroes is perhaps the one person who made the civil rights possible: Bayard Rustin. Rustin’s unwavering commitment to social justice and (more importantly) Gandhi-esque nonviolent civil disobedience made the burgeoning movement more appealing to the rest of America. His powerful planning skills made the 250,000 strong March on Washington on August 28, 1963 a reality.
As a Quaker, he spent two years in jail as a conscientious objector during WWII, and FBI director (and closet case) J. Edgar Hoover never passed up a chance to bring up Rustin’s years as a Communist. But it was refusal to be silent about his life as a gay man that few could (or would, including King) tolerate. To be an openly gay man in the 50s and 60s was tantamount to persona non grata status in the US, and it is for that reason that many Americans have never heard of Rustin.
And it is for that reason that I commend Bayard Rustin, for embodying everything that America should stand for and never backing down from his convictions. When we are getting drunk today, let’s keep his memory alive and give this patriot the respect that he richly deserves.