Bayard Rustin

1912 - 1987

A Civil Rights Leader

Activist Bayard Rustin is remembered for his contributions to the civil rights movement and for organizing the March on Washington in 1963. Despite being a brilliant behind-the-scenes strategist and integral force behind the nonviolent protests, marches, and boycotts that propelled the movement forward, he was often overlooked because he was openly gay.
Activist Bayard Rustin 1963

Originally from Pennsylvania, Rustin attended City College of New York in the 1930s. He dedicated himself to fighting inequality and demonstrating peacefully at a young age. A conscientious objector to war, Rustin was arrested in 1943 for refusing to report to his local draft board, a crime for which he spent 28 months in federal prison.

Upon his release, Rustin traveled to India and studied Gandhi’s nonviolent movement. He participated in Freedom Rides across the South and protested segregation as early as the 1940s, gaining the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom Rustin would become a key advisor.

Rustin founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) in 1965 and devoted his life to human rights issues across the globe. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Bayard Rustin at the March on Washington
Bayard Rustin, left, ahead of the March on Washington, August 1963. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress


For decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay. No medal can change that. But today, we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love.

- President Barack Obama During Rustin's Medal of Freedom Ceremony, 2013