As America prepares to observe the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination today, there is one name you may not hear: Bayard Rustin. A close confidante and mentor of King, Rustin was a key leader of the civil rights movement and chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He proved to be a transformative figure in the fight for racial justice, even introducing King to the Gandhian principles of nonviolence that would come to define the struggle. He also happened to be gay.
Rustin understood that we are all connected. His commitment to solidarity and passion for organizing made him a natural fit for the labor movement. He launched the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute to extend the fight for economic justice to people of color. He knew that achieving a just society required securing jobs and freedom for all Americans. That vision for an inclusive, empowered coalition resonates just as powerfully decades later.