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Bayard Rustin's Life In Letters
BY BAYARD RUSTIN, EDITED BY MICHAEL LONG
A collection of over 150 of his letters; his correspondents include the major progressives of his day and touchingly his correspondence with AFSC staff after his arrest. Bayard Rustin's eloquent, impassioned voice, his ability to chart the path "from protest to politics," is both timely and deeply informative. As the Occupy movement ushers America into a pivotal election year, and as politicians and citizens re-assess their goals and strategies, these letters provide direct access to the strategic thinking and tactical planning that led to the successes of one of America's most transformative and historic social movements.
City Lights 2012 552.PP. Paper
ANNOTATED CONTENTS: I Must Resist: Bayard Rustins Life in Letters
Foreword by Julian Bond
Introduction: Resisting the Shadows: Characterizes Bayard Rustin as the most important figure in nonviolent protest politics in twentieth-century America, and suggests that his gay sexuality kept him virtually unnoticeable during much of the civil rights movement.
1. War Is Wrong 1942-1944: Rustin details his principled opposition to World War II and the military draft - actions that land him in federal prison.
2. One Ought to Resist the Entire System March-August 1944: Planning to fight racial segregation in the federal prison system, Rustin schools the prison warden and fellow prisoners in the theory and practice of nonviolent noncooperation. The warden describes Rustin as an extremely capable agitator whose ultimate objective is to discredit the Bureau of Prisons.
3. I Am a Traitor August-December 1944: Prison authorities target Rustin as a practicing homosexual and place him in administrative segregation for allegedly engaging in sex with other prisoners. Rustin initially responds to the charges with shock and indignation and later describes himself as a traitor to the cause of racial justice.
4. Until Every Effort Is Made, I Am Less than a Man January-August 1945: In wrenching letters to his gay lover in New York City, Rustin struggles with his sexuality and explores the question of whether he should build a relationship with a woman who has expressed love for him.
5. I Am Needed on the Outside November 1945-June 1946: After a conversation with his mentor, the internationally renowned pacifist A.J. Muste, Rustin decides to seek early release from prison so that he can devote himself to combating the horrors of atomic warfare.
6. A Small, Interracial, Disciplined Group to Test Jim Crow July 1946-Dec 1947: Rustin details plans related to the historic Journey of Reconciliation a bus trip that he and other young pacifists take to test implementation of the Supreme Courts decision banning states from applying their segregation statutes to interstate passengers.
7. To Fight for the United States Army Is to Fight for Bigotry 1948-1949: Rustin helps to lead a civil disobedience campaign against Jim Crow practices in the U.S. military. The threat of a large movement (among other factors) resulted in President Trumans executive order declaring that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. Rustin expresses displeasure at the orders weak wording and continues his radical call for civil disobedience.
8. Let Us Resist with Our Whole Beings 1950-1952: Expressing anger at Albert Einsteins refusal to become a leading voice in a campaign designed to halt construction of the nuclear bomb, Rustin implores his fellow pacifists to undertake radical protests at Los Alamos.I believe that only such extreme behavior can lead to the real conscience through the veneer of fear, cynicism, and frustration today, he writes.
9. For Me Sex Must Be Sublimated 1953-1955: Rustin loses his job at the Fellowship of Reconciliation the nations most influential pacifist organization after he is arrested for an act of sex perversion in Pasadena, California. Distraught over his arrest, he writes about the need to sublimate his gay sexuality for the sake of peace and justice. He eventually lands a new position with the War Resisters League.
10. This Is an Effort to Avoid War Race War 1956-1957: Captivated by the early rumblings of the Montgomery bus boycott, Rustin travels to the city and begins to advise Martin Luther King, Jr., about the theory and practice of nonviolence. Letters that he sends back home are filled with eyewitness accounts of King, the early stages of the civil rights movement, and Rustins significant influence on the budding civil rights leader.
11. Crisis Is at Hand for Civil Rights and Africa 1958-1959: Rustin leads a daring (but unsuccessful) campaign to prevent France from detonating a nuclear bomb in the Sahara. While he is directing the campaign on site, telegrams to and from Rustin reveal that U.S. civil rights leaders are clamoring for his return; they miss his intellectual leadership and strategic skills.
12. Bayard Was Crushed 1960-1962: Rustin begins to organize civil rights marches against the Democratic and Republican national conventions; the marches are to be led by King and labor leader A. Philip Randolph. But U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of Harlem, is determined to prevent King from staging protests at the Democratic convention and uses an intermediary to deliver a threat to King: Unless he calls off the protests, Powell would tell the media that King and Rustin are homosexual lovers. Rustin is crushed after King, fearful of negative media attention, decides to cut him out of the small group of civil rights leaders. The separation between King and Rustin lasts for approximately two years.
13. The March Certainly Was an Enormous Success 1963: With help from his contactsin the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Rustin is reintegrated into Kings inner circle and begins to make plans for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin is the chief strategist for the March and remains at the helm even after U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond publicly depicts him as both a communist and a pervert. Rustins post March letters demonstrate the enormous pride he feels following the March.
14. A Very Central Figure in the Civil Rights Movement 1964-1965: After the historic success of the March, King entertains the possibility of hiring Rustin to head the SCLC, but concerns about Rustins gay sexuality arise yet again. Nevertheless, Rustin continues to serve as an advisor to King, offering him counsel on both civil rights and the Vietnam War.
15. The Freedom Budget for All Americans 1966-1967: As the new head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Rustin seeks to build a coalition of labor, liberal, and religious activistsaround a proposed national budget that reflects his longtime commitment to socialist
principles and practices. The budget earns the wrath of pacifists who interpret it as supportiveof Johnsons war.
16. A Fantastic Vacuum 1968-1969: With the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rustin is encouraged to assume a major role in the civil rights movement. Invited by SCLC leaders, he takes charge of the Poor Peoples Campaign Kings grassroots effort to secure economic justice in the United States but withdraws after conflicts related to personalities and policies.
17. More Black Than Cleaver 1970-1975: Letters from anti war leaders, some of them his once close friends, lambaste Rustin for failing to become a leader in the peace movement. Rustin finds the pacifists too naive in their overtures toward Vietnamese communists and continues to remain aloof from radical peace activists. Rustin further shocks and angers his pacifist colleagues by publicly calling upon the United States government to supply Israel with military jets.
18. These People, Mr. President, Desperately Need Our Help 1976 to1979: Rustin writes letters fiercely critical of emerging black studies programs in U.S. colleges and universities, depicting them as intellectually shallow, and devotes most of his constructive attention to resolving social problems caused by numerous refugee-related crises. He also begins a decade long love affair with Walter Naegle, who eventually begins to encourage him to fight for gay rights.
19. Instead of a March 1980-1983: Rustin criticizes President Reagan for proposing cuts to social welfare programs, and takes politicians to task for not doing enough to undermine apartheid in South Africa. In a detailed memorandum to Coretta Scott King, he also characterizes 1983 as a poor time to hold a civil rights march, even one marking the twentieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 1963 was a time of hope, he writes, but 1983 is a period of despair.
20. Bayard Rustin Oh, What a Life! 1984 to 1987: Rustin criticizes Jesse Jacksons run for the U.S. presidency, lobbies for legislation to advance gay rights in New York City, and sends a note of support to Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode after his controversial decision to bomb a house occupied by members of MOVE, a radical group dedicated to black liberation. Not long before he dies, Rustin also registers his dissent from the Supreme Courts decision in Bowers v. Hardwick a ruling that denied gays the right to practice gay sex in the privacy of their homes.
Posted by QuakerBooks on February 6, 2012 3:57 PM
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