Bayard Rustin, one of the most important, yet unheralded, figures in the civil rights movement, will be posthumously receiving the highest honor an American civilian can get — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The announcement that President Barack Obama would be honoring Rustin, along with many other luminaries such as Oprah Winfrey, former preisident Bill Clinton and Ernie Banks, was applauded by the National Black Justice Coalition (NJBC), the nation’s leading black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.
Rustin was openly gay during his entire career in public life. His sexuality has often led some to downplay of his highly influential role in planning the 1963 March on Washington (which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month).
“Rustin was a radical visionary–a black gay activist for freedom and peace during a time when the conditions of both of these identities were perilous. The fact that he lived at the intersection of these identities while fighting for the freedoms of all oppressed people is even more revolutionary. Rustin owned his power as a black, openly gay man to fiercely challenge the status quo and fight on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized, while at the same time refusing to be defined by any single aspect of his identity,” the NJBC said n a statement.
The late civil rights activist is the subject of a recent documentary film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, which will be screened by the NJBC at a commemorative event in Washington D.C., titled “A Tribute to Bayard Rustin and the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.”