Last Friday marked the twentieth anniversary of Bayard Rustin's death. An erstwhile pacifist who had spent two years in prison for resisting the draft during World War II, he was one of the most vital, albeit behind-the-scenes, figures in the civil rights movement. In 1942 he co-founded the Congress for Racial Equality, and in 1947 he led the "Freedom Rides to test the Supreme Court ruling banning segregation in interstate travel. He conceived the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., which emerged in 1957 from the Montgomery bus boycott, of which he was a chief organizer. And in 1963 he helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The non-violent tactics of the civil rights movement can largely be attributed to Rustin, who had traveled to India a decade before to learn from Mahatma Gandhi.
Despite these contributions, Rustin is little remembered by liberals today.
That's from an excellent essay in The New Republic by James Kirchick, whose brave critique of Robert Mugabe's tyranny I noticed here last month.
Kirchick has some more thoughts on Rustin and his contemporaries here, observing: "If they were alive today, I'd like to think that Bayard Rustin, Lane Kirkland and Al Shanker would be enthusiastic signatories of the Euston Manifesto. Perhaps the Democrats can look to these 20th century liberal giants for a start."