Bayard Rustin Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

bayard_rustinTwenty-six years after his death, Bayard Rustin will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the first Black president, Barack Obama. Rustin receives our nation’s highest civilian honor almost fifty years to the date of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a grand achievement crafted by Rustin, but largely associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Rustin served in Dr. King’s inner circle and evangelized Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, which transformed the civil rights movement led by Dr. King.

Rustin also advocated the idea of the Grand Coalition, in which different interests looked past their narrow interests and towards opportunities to bridge efforts in order to achieve common goals.

Rustin was an openly gay man in a period when homosexuality was a crime in most parts of the country. He was a Black man during a time when Blacks were almost universally treated as second-class citizens.

He “stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights,” read the White House announcement on the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients. Rustin was “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all.”

Rustin is still not as well-known as the iconic figures of the civil rights movement, such as Dr. King and Rosa Parks. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of women and men – whose names we may never know – played parts in the movement to advance equality in America.

It’s in the spirit of honoring Bayard Rustin that the Equal Justice Society pays homage to the unsung heroes and heroines at the organization’s annual event on August 28, 2013, at the Oakland Museum.

The event, titled “Everyday People: The Unsung Heroes and Heroines Who Powered the Civil Rights Movement,” takes place on the date of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Musicians, actors and dancers from the acclaimed Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and the Zaccho Dance Theatre will debut an original theatrical event in a tribute to the unsung and the unrecognized.

For more information about the event, visit

Photo: Bayard Rustin (left) talks with Cleveland Robinson in this photo by Orlando Fernandez.