This Day in History: 1912-03-17

Civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin is born. A key advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Rustin is credited with introducing King to and expanding his knowledge of non-violence. Rustin was instrumental in organizing the Montgomery bus boycot and the March on Washington, among other historic actions. A Quaker, Rustin studied Gandhian non-violence in India in 1948, and helped organize independence movements in Africa in the early 1950s. A gay man, Rustin was suffered arrest and conviction on charges related to homosexual activity. Rustin was likewise persecuted for his status as a conscientious objector and spent two years in prison during WWII as a result. While Rustin’s homosexuality and former affiliation with the Communist Party led some to question King’s relationship with him, King recognized the importance of Rustin’s skills and dedication to the movement. In a 1960 letter, King told a colleague: “We are thoroughly committed to the method of nonviolence in our struggle and we are convinced that Bayard’s expertness and commitment in this area will be of inestimable value”. Learn more.