Bayard Rustin was a fervid orator and incisive rhetorician who served as a key figure in the civil rights movement for more than 60 years. He introduced Mahatma Gandhi's principles of nonviolence to American activists, and he organized the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. So why doesn't Bayard Rustin receive equal standing with King in American history? It's a question of considerable debate, but Rustin's status as an openly gay man who served jail time as a conscientious objector during World War II guaranteed his marginalization during the 1960s among civil rights leaders, who feared such traits could be used by opponents to discredit their movement.
Religious studies professor, activist, and author Michael Long delves into Rustin's legacy in I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters, a collection that provides intimate insight into the relationships and principles that fueled Rustin's work for social justice until his death in 1987. Long reads from his work and talks about Rustin's legacy Wednesday night at City Lights.
In the book, Long presents correspondence between Rustin and associates including progressive icons Eleanor Holmes Norton and King, unveiling this long-unheralded figure. I Must Resist reveals Rustin to be a trenchant public intellectual and unflagging champion of justice, despite enduring an astounding level of homophobia inside and outside the movement. Long discusses I Must Resist and Bayard's significance at this book release party, which coincides with the centennial of Bayard's birth.
Michael Long speaks at 7 p.m. Wednesday (April 11) at City Lights, 261 Columbus (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is free.