Black History Month is all about celebrating our best and brightest for their history-making contributions to Black culture and society at large. Special tributes occur for well-known figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson and George Washington Carver each year. There are so many “Hidden Heroes” that don’t get recognized including: Claudette Colvin(bus boycott), Annie Turnbo Malone(Black hair care pioneer), and Bayard Rustin.
Rustin served as one of the key organizers of the March on Washington and was an advisor to Dr. King in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He co-organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is a HBCU alum and member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
At one point, he put his education on the line for his activism by organizing and protest and was expelled from school as a result. As an openly gay man, Rustin faced bias from people who called him a “pervert” and tried to discredit his work.
Even some Black Leaders believed Rustin’s sexual orientation would hinder achieving the goals of the movement. Their lack of support played a part in his efforts being silenced and getting less recognition as the face of the movement. Rustin spent two months in jail on a morals charge, after being caught with another man. He also spent two years in jail for refusing to sign up for the draft.
Bayard Rustin died in 1987 at the age of 75. It has been more than three decades since his passing, but we mustn’t forget his contributions to Black History. He helped organize the first freedom rides and boycotts over public school segregation.
In 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously honored Bayard Rustin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was a long overdue recognition for a man who changed the course of history.