Bayard Rustin was an American civil rights activist and one of the most important yet often overlooked figures in the fight for racial equality in the 20th century. Born in 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Rustin was raised by his grandparents, who were Quakers, and instilled in him a commitment to social justice and nonviolent resistance.
In collaboration with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rustin played a somewhat less recognized yet extraordinarily pivotal role as the behind-the-scenes organizer of the March on Washington in 1963. Not only did he plan such details as who would speak and what signs protesters would hold, but he was also responsible for imparting his nonviolent resistance ideology to Dr. King in the first place. Rustin was raised to believe that all humans are equal and that war was wrong, so his response to policies he felt were unjust was to employ nonviolent resistance to bring about change.
Throughout his life, Rustin faced discrimination based on his skin color and sexual orientation; being openly gay was illegal at the time, and even within his own networks of nonviolent resistance, some questioned whether to be associated with him at times because of this. Nonetheless, Rustin never ceased his mission to right the wrongs in a society that had largely adopted hatred and intolerance instead of love and acceptance.
Though Rustin passed in 1987, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013—50 years after the historic March on Washington. In 2006, West Chester Area School District named its newest high school Bayard Rustin High School in honor of our very own hometown hero who spent his life working for peace.