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BlindianProject History: Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin, an iconic American civil rights activist, gay rights advocate, and proponent of nonviolence, was born in 1912. He is best known for being the lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Raised by his grandparents, Rustin's grandmother was a Quaker and a member of the NAACP and frequently hosted leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson in their home.

In 1932, Rustin attended Wilberforce College, a historically Black college in Ohio, and was expelled in 1936 for organizing a strike. After completing an activist training programme, Rustin moved to Harlem.

Rustin journaled about reading Krishnalal Shridharani's War Without Violence (1939). Shridharani's book was based on his Ph.D. dissertation, which he completed at Columbia University. The book details the development of Gandhi's "political philosophy," integrating – satyagraha, swaraj, ahimsa) into a cohesive political program.

In 1949, according to Daniel Levine's Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin visited India to attend a planned conference on pacifism at Santiniketan near Calcutta organized by Gandhi. Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948, and conference fundraising fell through. Still, Rustin spent seven weeks in India and Pakistan, learning Gandhian nonviolent civil resistance techniques, which he could call upon during his activism.

Rustin's sexuality was brought to the public's attention for the first time in 1953 following an arrest in Pasadena, California. Rustin had remained candid in private about his sexuality, although homosexuality was still criminalized throughout the United States. Later, he was shunned by several Civil Rights activists, pushed to the background, and never formally received the credit he rightfully deserved.

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