Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights.
Rustin worked with A. Philip Randolph on the March on Washington Movement in 1941 to press for an end to racial discrimination in employment. Rustin later organized Freedom Rides and helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership, teaching King about nonviolence and later serving as an organizer for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Rustin worked alongside Ella Baker, a co-director of the Crusade for Citizenship, in 1954; and before the Montgomery bus boycott, he helped organize a group called "In Friendship" amongst Baker, George Lawrence, Stanley Levison of the American Jewish Congress, and some other laborers. "In Friendship" provided material and legal assistance to those being evicted from their tenant farms and households in Clarendon County, Yazoo and other places.
King had feelings of betrayal toward Rustin's open comments about his concern for the timing and possible upbringing of violence in the Poor People's Campaign of 1968. After King’s assassination, Rustin agreed to fly from Memphis to help lead the campaign in King’s absence. Rustin faced opposition by movement leadership regarding his involvement, eventually causing him to withdraw his agreement.
After the passage of the civil rights legislation of 1964–65, Rustin became the head of the AFL–CIO's A. Philip Randolph Institute, which promoted the integration of formerly all-white unions and promoted the unionization of African Americans. During the 1970s and 1980s, Rustin served on many humanitarian missions, such as aiding refugees from Communist Vietnam and Cambodia. At the time of his death in 1987, he was on a humanitarian mission in Haiti.
Rustin was a gay man who had been arrested early in his career for engaging in public sex (in a parked car). Due to criticism over his sexuality, he usually acted as an influential adviser behind the scenes to civil-rights leaders. In the 1980s, he became a public advocate on behalf of gay causes, speaking at events as activist and supporter of human rights.