Bayard Rustin was one of the foremost thinkers and leaders in the Civil Rights Movement -- but he was relegated to behind-the-scenes roles because he was gay. He grew up in an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania, and went on to attend Wilberforce University in Ohio, which is affiliated with the AME Church and was the first Black college founded by Black people. He pledged Omega Psi Phi at Wilberforce, but was later expelled for organizing a strike -- an action that would foreshadow his career as a labor rights activist. After leaving Wilberforce, he returned back to Pennsylvania and enrolled at Cheyney State Teachers College (now Cheyney University). He was an accomplished tenor, and is singing earned him scholarships to both institutions.
He was one of the architects of the 1963 March on Washington (though given the title of deputy to A. Phillip Randolph, who advocated for Rustin's inclusion). The next year, he led the New York City School boycott, in which more than 400,000 Black and Puerto Rican parents and children refused to go to school February 3, 1964 in protest of their de facto segregation. It was reported to be the largest civil rights demonstration in American history. He continued to fight for economic equality and gay rights as key components of civil rights, until he died in 1987.
Young Students (K3-2nd Grade)
Bayard Rustin was one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement -- someone who did a lot of work, but didn't get much recognition or credit. Who do you know who is an "unsung hero" in your community? How can you commit to making sure you give that person credit for the work they do?
Middle Students (Grades 3-8)
Bayard Rustin was openly gay in a time when it was frowned upon heavily, because he felt to remain closeted would perpetuate the idea that there was something wrong with being gay. He would be a part of the very system he was fighting against. Have you ever played a part in injustice by remaining quiet when you should have spoken up? Why did you make that choice? How can you commit to speaking up for what's right in the future?
High School Students (Grades 9-12)
Bayard Rustin was relegated to the background of the Civil Rights Movement because his sexuaity as a gay man went against the respectability politics of the time. Respectability politics is a set of beliefs that evaluates morality based on proximity to the traits and actions deemed "respectable" by the dominant group. What are some reasons you think respectability politics played a part in the Civil Rights Movement? What ways do we see them play out in present-day American life?
Bayard Rustin's said, "The moral man is a man who is opposed to injustice per see, opposed to injustice wherever he finds it; the moral man looks for injustice first of all within himself." This is very similar to today's principle of antiracism; both require one to commit to fighting injustice wherever it appears, included in one's self. When is the last time you looked inward to ask yourself whether you are perpetuating injustices in education -- even unknowingly? What commitment can you make to tackling those internal injustices so you can make a difference for your students externally?
About the Series
A Black Child Can was founded to create a better world for students by empowering the adults around them with the knowledge they need to advocate on their behalf. The 2022 blog series builds on this foundation, encouraging educators to participate in the discussion and reflect on the ways they're showing up for their students.