Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the March : Throughline Bayard Rustin, the man behind the March on Washington, was one of the most consequential architects of the civil rights movement you may never have heard of. Rustin imagined how nonviolent civil resistance could be used to dismantle segregation in the United States. He organized around the idea for years and eventually introduced it to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But his identity as a gay man made him a target, obscured his rightful status and made him feel forced to choose, again and again, which aspect of his identity was most important.

Remembering Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the March on Washington

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BAYARD RUSTIN: (Singing) Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot...


A PHILIP RANDOLPH: Negroes want the same things that white citizens possess - all of their rights.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Freedom Now Movement, hear me. We are requesting all citizens to move into Washington - to go by plane, by car, bus...

NORMAN HILL: Two-hundred-fifty thousand people, Black and white, marched on the nation's capital.

JOYCE LADNER: It nationalized the Southern freedom struggle.

RACHELLE HOROWITZ: It was really glorious.

RUSTIN: (Singing) ...Me home. Swing low...


August 28, 1963 - the March on Washington - lives in many of our minds as a single moment, a single voice, a single dream.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR: I have a dream that one day...


But what you probably don't know is there's a man standing behind Martin Luther King Jr. as he's making this speech, just a few feet to his right. He's tall, thin, wearing thick, black-framed glasses. And this moment would never have happened without him.








RUSTIN: (Singing) Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei.

ABDELFATAH: I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: And in this final episode of our Imagining New Worlds series, the Man Behind the March on Washington.


RUSTIN: (Singing) Sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home.

WALTER NAEGLE: Bayard would sing at a demonstration, in the shower, standing over the stove suddenly. So it was very much a part of his - of who he was.

ABDELFATAH: This is Walter Naegle.


RUSTIN: (Singing) ...Comin' for to carry me home.

ABDELFATAH: And that voice singing was Bayard Rustin.

NAEGLE: I met Bayard Rustin in mid-April of 1977. It just so happened we were on the same street corner waiting for a light to change. And we looked at each other, and suddenly lightning struck. I was actually on my way to a newsstand in Times Square. I had decided to leave New York, so I was on my way to pick up a San Francisco Chronicle to look at the job market and the apartment market. And I did pick up the paper that day, but I never quite made it to San Francisco.

ABDELFATAH: Walter and Bayard were partners until Bayard's death in 1987, and Walter still lives in the same apartment in New York where he lived with Bayard all those years ago.

NAEGLE: I find it very comforting. I never feel really that Bayard's very far away.

ABDELFATAH: It's also where Bayard did so much of the planning for the March on Washington back in 1963, which, you could say, was his crowning achievement. But here's the thing about big historic moments - the reality of what happened rarely lines up exactly with our perception of what happened. Things get left out. Tensions are downplayed. But all of those complicated details - those are what make the story human, what makes the whole thing seem more impossible and more amazing that it actually happened.

ARABLOUEI: The March on Washington was the largest march the nation's capital had ever seen up to that point. And Bayard Rustin was responsible for organizing it - 250,000 people from all over the country coming to Washington, D.C., on a single day. Beyond that one event, his influence on the civil rights movement and on Martin Luther King Jr., in particular, was huge, though it often goes overlooked.

ABDELFATAH: He was the strategist, the organizer, the person who imagined a different way forward and a better world, despite the many obstacles he faced. And through it all, he sang.


RUSTIN: (Singing) Nobody knows...

NAEGLE: After a talk he gave, a woman came up to him and said, you know, oh, Mr. Rustin, you came and you spoke at my college in 1940s, and you were wonderful. You changed my life. And he said, oh, well - he said, what did I talk about? And she paused and said, well, I don't really remember, but you sang "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen." So that was what stayed with her.


RUSTIN: (Singing) Glory, hallelujah.

NAEGLE: At the end of the song, it ends saying, glory, hallelujah, which is a way of saying I overcame.


RUSTIN: (Singing) Oh, yes, Lord.

ARABLOUEI: When we come back, we're going behind the scenes of the March on Washington with those who lived to tell the story of how the march came together and the man at the center of it all, Bayard Rustin.


RUSTIN: (Singing) Glory, Hallelujah.

NATASHA SHIPMAN: This is Natasha Shipman (ph) from Cameron, N.C., and you are listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6, BYLINE: Part 1 - A Group of Angelic Troublemakers.


RUSTIN: Since the beginning of this nation, we have attempted to make a moral and psychological analysis of prejudice, the economic and social degradation to which it has led. And I'm afraid we are still doing so.

BULL CONNOR: You can never whip these birds if you don't keep you and them separate. You've got to keep the white and the Black separate.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Which side are you on?

ABDELFATAH: In the early 1960s, the civil rights movement was heating up. Sit-ins, boycotts and marches were consuming cities across the South - a movement that was beginning to spread to Northern cities, too.


JOHN CLOUD: It would be detrimental to your safety to continue this march. And I'm saying that this is an unlawful assembly. This march will not continue.

ABDELFATAH: Seeing this, a man named A. Philip Randolph...


RANDOLPH: My name is A. Philip Randolph. The A stands for Asa.

ABDELFATAH: ...Who was at the forefront of the civil rights movement, called a meeting with a few people he trusted.

HILL: My name is Norman Hill.

ABDELFATAH: Norman Hill, then the national program director of the Congress of Racial Equality, was one of them.

HILL: Myself, Bayard Rustin, Tom Kahn, who was the executive director of the League for Industrial Democracy.

ABDELFATAH: Norman and Tom Kahn were young and relatively new to the activism scene, but Bayard and Randolph had been working together for a long time, planning marches and speaking across the country.

HILL: Randolph said it's time to march again.

ABDELFATAH: For decades, he'd been dreaming of putting together a big march...

HILL: ...A massive march directed toward and on the nation's capital.


RANDOLPH: I have long fought for equal opportunity for Black workers...

ABDELFATAH: A march for jobs...


RANDOLPH: ...And for economic progress...

ABDELFATAH: ...For all people.


RANDOLPH: ...For all workers.

ABDELFATAH: A. Philip Randolph came up in the labor movement of the early 1900s, reading Marx and calling himself a socialist. He firmly believed that a decent, well-paying job would lead to social and political freedom, especially for Black people. Thing is, the time never seemed quite right for that kind of a march.


RANDOLPH: Not everyone agrees with the vision of racial progress through militant struggles or economic independence.

ABDELFATAH: But now, in the early 1960s, with the country's attention fixed on the civil rights movement, might be the perfect time. And he knew the men he'd called together shared his vision.

HILL: Randolph said to Tom Kahn, Bayard Rustin and myself, come back to me with a plan for organizing the march. And so we - the three of us met several times.

ABDELFATAH: For hours, they brainstormed, trying to imagine what this march would be, what its goals were, who would come and how they would market it to the world.


ABDELFATAH: Norman Hill could hardly believe he was in this room planning what could become the largest march in American history with Bayard Rustin of all people.

HILL: I heard Bayard Rustin speak at the University of Chicago.


RUSTIN: Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable.

HILL: I was 26.


RUSTIN: The only weapon we have is our bodies.

HILL: I was impressed by his intellect, his charisma, his commanding presence. And I came to him after he completed his address, asking what I could do to help.

ABDELFATAH: The rest, as they say, was history. It was the beginning of a career in activism for Norman. But what he didn't know was that decades earlier, when Bayard Rustin first arrived in New York, he'd also stumbled into a life of activism.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Now, every train to Washington brings its cargo of experts to join the great assault on the Depression - economists, sociologists, statisticians, agronomists, idealists, world savers - each with a panacea, a surefire system to save the country.

JOHN D'EMILIO: It's now the 1930s in the middle of the Great Depression. And Bayard, who is experiencing the feelings and the awareness that he was gay, that he was attracted to men, decides to move to New York City.


D'EMILIO: He thought it would be a safe place to be, both racially and in the context of a city to explore his sexual desires.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard moved in with his aunt in Harlem.

D'EMILIO: Harlem, at that point, is by far the largest African American community in the United States.

ARABLOUEI: It was a big change from the small town in Pennsylvania where he'd grown up.

D'EMILIO: You know, he could walk along 125th Street in Harlem and see major theaters and Black-owned businesses and see women and children completely occupying the streets and the sidewalks.

ARABLOUEI: By the way, this is John D'Emilio.

D'EMILIO: I published a book titled "Lost Prophet: The Life And Times Of Bayard Rustin."

ARABLOUEI: So who was Bayard Rustin going to be in this new world? Initially, he thought his future was on the stage. After all, he'd been singing since he was a kid. So...

D'EMILIO: He looked for work in the arts and theater and music.


BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) I've been around the world...

ARABLOUEI: He spent a lot of time at a club called Cafe Society around the same time Billie Holiday was there...


HOLIDAY: (Singing) The North Pole, I have charted, but can't get started with you.

ARABLOUEI: ...Where he had a regular gig.


RUSTIN: (Singing) I saw her as I came and went.

ARABLOUEI: He even performed in a musical on Broadway with Paul Robeson.


RUSTIN: (Singing) ...As innocent as any child.

D'EMILIO: But I think, in the end, the power of the call to social justice and the deep political activism of the Great Depression decade pointed him, ultimately, in that direction.

ARABLOUEI: The world was at war. The U.S. economy was recovering. The labor movement was strong, and the communist movement was growing stronger. So as his ambitions to perform faded, Bayard threw himself into the activism scene.

D'EMILIO: And for a short time associates himself with the Communist Party, which was one of the few organizations at that time that wasn't primarily Black that openly supported racial justice.

ARABLOUEI: But he soon decided to leave the party. It was headed in a direction he wasn't comfortable with, becoming more aligned with the Soviet Union.

D'EMILIO: Rustin would always say that he learned a lot from his time working with American communists and that he brought those lessons, particularly the fight for economic justice, with him throughout his life.

ARABLOUEI: And then he came across a voice that changed everything for him.


MAHATMA GANDHI: I regard myself as a soldier, though a soldier of peace. I know the value of discipline and truth.

ARABLOUEI: It was the voice of Mahatma Gandhi.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The mystery man of India, dressed as he said he would be - just his loincloth, even in the chilly climes of Europe.

D'EMILIO: For Rustin, in the 1930s, at a time of intense racism in the United States, the idea that a man of color was leading a movement against the world's largest empire was completely inspiring and, you know, awe-provoking.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard immersed himself in interviews and articles about Gandhi.

D'EMILIO: And then experienced almost - you could describe it as a conversion to nonviolence.

ARABLOUEI: He had grown up with the idea of nonviolence around him. His grandma, Julia Davis Rustin, who'd raised him as her own child and who he loved deeply, was a Quaker.

NAEGLE: Julia was, I would say, the primary influence on Bayard, certainly in his childhood.

ARABLOUEI: Later in life, Bayard would say, my activism did not spring from being Black. Rather, it is rooted fundamentally in my Quaker upbringing and the values instilled in me by my grandparents, who reared me. And Gandhi just took things to the next level for Bayard. He believed an empire had been torn down and a nation changed with little more than words and peaceful protest. That was revolutionary for him, and Gandhi's voice would echo through Bayard's activism for the rest of his life.


GANDHI: I can see that in the midst of death, life persists. In the midst of untruth, truth persists. In the midst of darkness, light persists.


ABDELFATAH: All right. So back to 1963 - Norman, Bayard and Tom Kahn have finally figured out what they're going to show to A. Philip Randolph. Here's how Bayard described their vision for the march in his notes.

NAEGLE: (Reading) January 1963 - the 100 years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, I've witnessed no fundamental government action to terminate the economic subordination of the American Negro. Negroes seek, as an integral part of their own struggle as a people, the creation of more jobs for all Americans. Therefore, the project described below must be a massive effort involving coordinated participation by all progressive sectors of the liberal, labor, religious and Negro communities.

HILL: And we developed a two-day proposal.

NAEGLE: (Reading) We envision a two-day action program divided as follows.

HILL: The first day was to be sit-ins in the congressional offices of those who were opposed to civil rights legislation. The second day was to be a mass demonstration.

ABDELFATAH: And these were their two main objectives.

NAEGLE: (Reading) A, the project should call for action by the president and Congress, listing concrete demands. B, we should emphasize the theme that no worker in America is genuinely free. We now demand a program of action in 1963 that will ensure the emancipation of all labor, regardless of color, race or creed.

ABDELFATAH: In other words, jobs and economic justice were going to be the focus of the event.

HILL: And we presented this plan to A. Philip Randolph.


ABDELFATAH: To their relief, Randolph liked the plan. It was decided. They would host a March on Washington that summer. So now all that was left to do was, you know, pull off the most ambitious protests in American history in just a few months. And that's when Randolph turned to Bayard. Here's how Bayard remembers what happened next.


RUSTIN: Mr. Randolph asked me if I would set up the logistics for the march, which I immediately began to do, and to get every agency in America - Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, intellectuals, labor movement, everybody - involved and to contain it so it was intensely nonviolent. And Mr. Randolph gave me the right to see that that march was carried out.


ABDELFATAH: When we come back, the clock begins ticking, and Bayard begins to organize.


SREE: Hi. This is Sree (ph) calling from Toronto, and you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Part 2 - A Sword That Heals.


ARABLOUEI: It's 1948, and Bayard Rustin has just boarded a ship to India, which by this point has gained independence from the British Empire. Over the last decade since he first got involved in activism, Bayard had built up a name for himself in activist circles.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: As the nation's youth put aside the ways of peace and turned to war, we would gain the inevitable triumph.

ARABLOUEI: He'd spent three years in prison for refusing to fight in World War II as a conscientious objector. While in prison, Bayard kept protesting, organizing inmates and rallying to end segregation in the prison. But that landed him in solitary confinement, which took a toll.

D'EMILIO: The photograph that was taken of Rustin when he first went to federal prison shows a very calm and relaxed face. And then when they transferred him to a more secure prison after his protests and all and they take another photo of him, you can see on his face the pain that it was causing and what it's done to him. He almost looks like a different human being.

ARABLOUEI: His eyes are sunken, his cheeks hollowed out, and his brows seem to be arched in anger or maybe pain. He was down, but not out. And after leaving prison, he jumped right back into activism, traveling across the country giving lectures, organizing workshops, spreading the gospel of nonviolence.


ARABLOUEI: And by the time he arrived in India, he had earned the nickname Mr. Nonviolence.


D'EMILIO: This is after, sadly, the death of Mahatma Gandhi, so Rustin never got to meet him.

ARABLOUEI: But he was able to walk the streets Gandhi walked and meet the people he'd fought alongside, soaking up the philosophy of nonviolence in the place where it had been turned into action and succeeded. Bayard was determined to bring it to the civil rights movement back in the U.S. Sit-ins, boycotts, marches - those would be the hallmarks of this philosophy in action.


D'EMILIO: One of the interesting things about this trip is that at that point, post-independence, many of the core activists in the nonviolent movement are feeling a bit disillusioned because rather than nonviolence being at the top of visibility, it's nationalism that seems to be motivating many people. And nationalism contains within it the possibility of violence against those who disagree with you.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard came up against the reality that the Gandhian movement wasn't entirely nonviolent. He reflected that it was, quote, "nonviolent in its means, but essentially violent in its ends, which was nationalism," end quote.

D'EMILIO: We tend not to realize from the outside that all social movements, no matter what the identity, experience internal disagreements, that people have different agendas and different approaches.

ARABLOUEI: Attention that Bayard would also face in his pursuit of a nonviolent future.


RUSTIN: The problem can never be stated in terms of Black and white.

HOROWITZ: He debated Malcolm X.


MALCOLM X: If you try and keep us here against our will and enforce segregation upon us, you're going to have violence. You're going to have it whether you like it or not.

HOROWITZ: And he lost the debate.


MALCOLM X: The whole world is looking down on Uncle Sam because Uncle Sam is the Earth's leading hypocrite.


RUSTIN: I am merely pointing out that if you do not have an adequate program and if you do not rely upon the progressive allies, you throw yourself open to being utilized.

D'EMILIO: Rustin has this almost utopian idealism. This is the world that we're aiming for, and as human beings, with our moral sense, we can move in that direction.

ARABLOUEI: Thing is, utopian idealism can be read as foolish optimism or even as a stubborn denial of reality. Like, think about it. If every American had objected to fighting in World War II, would the outcome of the war have been different? Was violence necessary to prevent a greater evil from arising? Does it always have to be an either-or? However you read it, this dedication to nonviolence is what kept Bayard going.


RUSTIN: They wanted us to talk about violence so they could destroy us. So long as we were adhering to nonviolence, they could not destroy us.


ABDELFATAH: Spring 1963 - Bayard has assembled a team of people to begin organizing the march. Many of them are in their 20s, hungry for a chance to jump into the thick of things.

HOROWITZ: He made us feel like we were players in history and that he took us seriously.

HILL: Rachelle Horowitz was on the staff of the march.

HOROWITZ: I'm Rachelle Horowitz, and I was the transportation director of the March on Washington. And also, I assisted Bayard generally during the march.

ABDELFATAH: Rachelle, who's white, met Bayard a few years earlier. She'd been inspired to go all-in in the movement after working alongside him on a boycott campaign.

HOROWITZ: Bayard, who was smoking about eight cigarettes at a time, took the time to either sing with his incredible voice or lecture us on the history of the civil rights movement and of Black people in the United States. So he had us reading things all the time.

ABDELFATAH: Rachelle was just 22 when she joined the march as an organizer and wasn't sure she was the right fit for transportation director.

HOROWITZ: I was the person who, on four previous marches, had lost my bus. I went, I marched, I couldn't find my bus.

ABDELFATAH: But she stuck with it for one simple reason.

HOROWITZ: Because Bayard told me I could do it. I mean, that's all.

ABDELFATAH: OK. Transportation director maybe doesn't sound all that glamorous, but think about it. It was a really important job because how do you get 200,000 people - the number of people they hoped would come - to one place? Not to mention, once they're there, you have to make sure they've got food, access to bathrooms, a clear agenda for the day - basically, all the things that Fyre Festival didn't do.

HILL: I was on the road, mainly traveling to various cities, organizing coalitions for the march.

HOROWITZ: We went from February to June, convincing, cajoling people that this really should take place.

ABDELFATAH: They had to communicate a vision, a story about the march that made sense to people.

HOROWITZ: Bayard would tell us to visualize and all through it the whole day - you know, from the time a participant woke up in the morning, until they went to Washington, until they left.

ABDELFATAH: It took a few months, but they finally had enough buy-in from different groups to set up a meeting between the heads of the civil rights movement, aka the Big Six - A. Philip Randolph, who you've already met, Roy Wilkins...

HILL: The leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

ABDELFATAH: ...Whitney Young...

HILL: Leader of the National Urban League.

ABDELFATAH: ...James Farmer...

HILL: Of the Congress of Racial Equality.

ABDELFATAH: ...John Lewis...

HILL: Of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

ABDELFATAH: ...And Martin Luther King Jr.

HILL: President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

ABDELFATAH: But before they met, Bayard made some tweaks to the march proposal. He changed the mission statement to include two goals.

HILL: Jobs and freedom.

ABDELFATAH: Freedom meaning racial justice. President John F. Kennedy was working on a civil rights bill, and Rustin figured the Big Six wouldn't want to take attention away from it, especially since Kennedy had already made it clear he opposed the march.

HILL: He indicated that there might be violence, which would set back the cause of civil rights.

ABDELFATAH: And Bayard made another tweak. He reduced the event from two days to one.

HOROWITZ: We thought it was a sellout, but they were right.

ABDELFATAH: He presented this revised proposal to the Big Six, and they were on board, except Roy Wilkins of the NAACP had one condition. He didn't want Bayard, a gay former communist, to be the top organizer of the march. So it was decided that Randolph should chair the march.

HILL: He said he would do so on one condition - that he be given the right to name his deputy to do the day-to-day organizing of the march. And he named Bayard Rustin.

ABDELFATAH: In effect, Bayard would still be running things, just out of the spotlight.


HOROWITZ: He had gigantic to-do lists on yellow pads. And we all had to-do lists of what we should do.

ABDELFATAH: It was a lot of work, so they asked groups participating in the march to send representatives to help them with the organizing.

LADNER: The call came out from the headquarters. Courtland Cox and I were the two people designated by SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

HOROWITZ: Bayard said to me, there are two young women from Mississippi in New York. They need a place to live. Can they live with you? So, of course, yes, they did.

LADNER: Somehow we ended up moving in with Rachelle in her one-bedroom apartment. Dorie and I slept on the living room sofa.

HOROWITZ: Like, foam rubber with bolsters that Joyce and her sister moved into.

ABDELFATAH: Joyce Ladner had grown up in the heart of the Jim Crow South, where the oppression of Black Americans was at its worst.

LADNER: There was always the omnipresence of terror in the air. People were being shot. People were being killed. Medgar Evers had been slain, one of my civil rights mentors.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Fifteen minutes past midnight, Evers got out of his car beside his home in a Negro residential area. In a vacant lot about 40 yards away, a sniper fired a single shot from a high-powered rifle at Evers' silhouette. The bullet hit him in the back, crashed through his body through a window into the house.

LADNER: And, of course, I went to work with Rachelle up in Harlem. We got on the train. And I'd never - I'd heard everything about Harlem since I was in high school, I guess. And it was just amazing to see this huge place with all these Black people. It was fantastic. I loved it.


LADNER: Rachelle introduced me to Bayard. The first thing I noticed was his accent. He had this kind of clipped British accent. I didn't know where it was from at the time.


RUSTIN: Now, no one is going to pay any attention to the job problem, quite frankly, merely because Negroes are without jobs.

HOROWITZ: It was an accent he made up as a child.


RUSTIN: This is not because people are devilish but because Negroes, being without things for so many hundreds of years, who is really moved by Negroes being without things?

HOROWITZ: He had a stutter, he told me, when he was growing up. And also, his father had abandoned his mother. And his father was Jamaican. So at some point in his life, he made up this accent. It's really sad and poignant. In later life, he used the accent when he was uncomfortable or when he was asserting himself.


RUSTIN: When, however, the white unemployed join with the Negroes in creating social dislocation in the interest of jobs, something will happen.


ABDELFATAH: The march was announced to the world in early June of 1963. It was scheduled to take place on August 28, 1963. And then the organizing sped up.

LADNER: We worked six days a week.

HILL: Day and night, engaging in outreach to as many groups and people as we could.

HOROWITZ: Folding letters, mailing out mailings, calling people on the phone.

LADNER: Because remember; we didn't have social media. We used mimeograph machines. We used telephones.

HOROWITZ: It was like the Dark Ages.

ABDELFATAH: Word began to spread, and they could tell people were interested in coming. Only problem was...

LADNER: We didn't know how many people would come.

ABDELFATAH: So they were feeling their way through the dark, trying to plan travel, food, lodging around maybes and what-ifs.

HOROWITZ: I think I calculated that there were going to be about 90,000 people there based on the number of buses that I knew had been chartered, planes and trains. And I was depressed. I thought, oh, my God, we're supposed to have 200,000. I depressed Bayard.

ABDELFATAH: But Rachelle had forgotten about all the people driving to the march themselves or buying their own tickets to travel there.

HOROWITZ: So in that sense, it was hard to plan.

ABDELFATAH: But they did their best.

HOROWITZ: We got the subway system of New York City to run on rush hour schedules.

ABDELFATAH: And they planned to have people with maps stationed along the turnpike to help drivers who got lost. They also reserved a whole lot of port-a-potties and invested in a really good sound system.

HOROWITZ: We paid what was a fortune in those days - $30,000 - and I think got two unions to contribute the money.

HILL: The United Auto Workers and the Ladies Garment Workers Union.

HOROWITZ: People had to hear the speakers.


ABDELFATAH: Disagreements came up along the way. Some were minor.

HOROWITZ: Bayard, at one meeting, announced that the National Council, I think, of Negro Women were preparing thousands of sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly. And I joked, oh, peanut butter and jelly. And he - really, first time he ever got really angry. He said, Rachelle, it doesn't spoil.

ABDELFATAH: (Laughter).

HOROWITZ: So we weren't going to have people sick on the march.

ABDELFATAH: Right. Right.

But other disagreements were more substantial, like the fact that no women were scheduled to speak at the march.

LADNER: My experience was that the women carried out a lot of the day-to-day work of the movement, and we met at churches at night for our mass meetings. I remember Mrs. Hamer - Fannie Lou Hamer - you know, speaking so articulately about the problems we were faced. But I don't remember her standing behind the pulpit saying those things. There were some preachers who said it was bad luck for a woman to cross the pulpit. It was still an era where male domination was accepted, you know?

ABDELFATAH: But everyone involved in the march from the top down agreed on one thing; the march had to be nonviolent. Anything less could spell disaster for the movement.

HOROWITZ: Bayard, I think, knew from day one that he was going to ask the New York City Black policemen to volunteer as marshals. And then he proceeded every day during the march to take a group of them out in the courtyard or back of the friendship building and train them in nonviolent crowd control - holding hands and encircling people should there be a disturbance.


MALCOLM X: We're nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us. But we are not nonviolent with anyone who is violent with us.


ABDELFATAH: And Rachelle says activists who had a more militant approach, like Malcolm X, were uninvited. Bayard knew that the march hinged on perceptions. Plenty of people were waiting for it to fail, so the crowd had to remain nonviolent. And the public face of the march also had to be non-threatening and wildly inspirational.


KING: Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace.

ABDELFATAH: It had to be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


KING: Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love, so that when the day comes that the walls of segregation...


RUSTIN: (Singing) Ezekiel saw the wheel way up in the middle of the air. Ezekiel saw the wheel way in the middle of the air.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard and Dr. King had first crossed paths eight years earlier during the Montgomery bus boycott.


KING: That was the day that we started a bus protest which literally electrified the nation.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Way over yonder. Way over yonder. Way over yonder. Way over yonder.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: They walked with God, and they rode with God, too, for they formed a carpool that was a marvel of quick organization.


RUSTIN: (Singing) And the little wheel runs by the grace of God. It's a wheel within a wheel way in the middle of the air. Ezekiel...

D'EMILIO: The Montgomery bus boycott began in December of 1955.


RUSTIN: (Singing) Way in the middle of the air...

D'EMILIO: Previous protests in the South about segregation on public transport had been conducted by a few people, who would then get arrested. This time, an entire community was boycotting the buses.


RUSTIN: (Singing) Way in the middle of the air.

D'EMILIO: For Rustin, this was amazing. It's like, I've been working for 15 years to have something like this happen. I've been organizing and training in communities north and south and west to make this happen, and here it is happening. And so Rustin makes a trip down to Montgomery through connections he has from his activism, people that will introduce him to the person who is emerging as the leader, Dr. King.


D'EMILIO: With Dr. King identified as the key leader, there is obviously concern for his safety. Imagine yourself as a Black minister in the Deep South in 1955, a Deep South in which racial segregation is everywhere and built into the laws and social practices of everyday life and in which violation of that can lead to physical violence directed at you. And so members of the community who are part of the organizing effort 24 hours a day are guarding his house and his family members, armed against the possibility of intrusion or violence by a white mob.


D'EMILIO: And then Rustin arrives. They begin their discussions about strategy and tactics. And Rustin is explaining more about Gandhi and nonviolence. And he informs King that if you are going to adopt this principle of absolute nonviolence, you cannot have armed guards outside your home. It's simply inconsistent and is delivering the wrong message.

Dr. King consults with the people he's working with. He consults with his wife, Coretta Scott King. And they make the decision that, in fact, Bayard Rustin is right. And now that I am moving towards this adoption of Gandhian philosophy, I cannot use weapons in any way at all.

I think it was a very important moment in Dr. King's evolution as a leader in this movement. And it was done in a very quiet and non-assertive way by Bayard.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard and Dr. King began working closely together. Some might call them friends. Bayard himself used slightly more formal language.


RUSTIN: I was an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King for a number of years. Actually, I am the person who drew up plans for his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

NAEGLE: The relationship was more, I would say, perhaps as a mentor to a student.


RUSTIN: I went away and bought several books on the Gandhian technique. And at that point, I became deeply influenced by Gandhi.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard, who was 17 years older than King, taught King everything he knew about Gandhi's philosophy and worked to elevate King's profile to a national level.


RUSTIN: Nonviolence - organized, I should say - organized nonviolent resistance is the most powerful weapon that oppressed people can use in breaking loose from the bondage of oppression.

ARABLOUEI: But King and the Baptist ministers he worked closely with always kept Bayard at a bit of a distance.

NAEGLE: Being a northerner and being, you know, kind of an intellectual, if you will. And of course, there was the whole issue of Bayard, you know, being gay.


RUSTIN: At a given point, there was so much pressure on Dr. King about my being gay, and particularly because I would not deny it, that he set up a committee to explore whether it would be dangerous for me to continue working with him.

ARABLOUEI: That point came in 1960. It was an election year. And Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a congressman from Harlem, was angry that Bayard and King were planning demonstrations to disrupt the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

D'EMILIO: Powell feels like it will interfere with the influence that he's developing by working within the Democratic Party in Congress.

ARABLOUEI: So he sets out to take down Bayard and King with him. He contacts King's inner circle and tells them...

D'EMILIO: He is prepared to circulate the rumor that Dr. King and Bayard Rustin are having a secret sexual affair.


D'EMILIO: Even though there was absolutely no truth in any respect to that, you can imagine the scandal, the way the media would take up rumors like that.

NAEGLE: You know, the newspaper headline said Rustin resigns, you know, when he was really being pushed out.

D'EMILIO: Rustin withdraws entirely from the efforts to organize the protest movement at the convention.

NAEGLE: He felt personally let down. And I think he felt - Bayard felt that it was, you know, it was weak not to stand up. At the same time, you know, at that point, Dr. King was still very much a young man. And he was under a tremendous amount of pressure.

D'EMILIO: Remember that in the 1940s and the 1950s and into the 1960s, it was common practice throughout the United States for police - law enforcement - to pursue, go in search of, harass and arrest men who were suspected of being gay. And you could be arrested for almost anything.


D'EMILIO: So Rustin, in the late '40s and early '50s, found himself picked up by the police on a number of occasions because he would be out in New York City in what were called public cruising areas like Times Square. And especially as a Black man not in a Black neighborhood, in those days, a white police force was especially attentive to his presence.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard was always open about his sexuality. And as he rose in the civil rights movement, that part of himself was always there, looming in the background.

NAEGLE: You know, there were a lot of gay men at that time who, you know, lived what we call closeted lives. And Bayard was not about to do that. You know, he had fulfilling relationships. He had happy relationships. Of course, none were as happy as until he met me, but nevertheless (laughter).

D'EMILIO: It taught him the need to learn how to do his work without calling attention to himself.

NAEGLE: He had to be a little more discreet.

D'EMILIO: So he learned how to become the organizer who mobilized other people who then were the ones who had the most visible public presence.

ARABLOUEI: But despite his best efforts not to call attention to himself, sometimes the attention found him anyway. And each time he did, the movement cast him out. It was a vicious cycle of exposure and exile. The first few times it happened, he turned the blame inward on himself. After he landed in hot water for a sexual encounter in 1944, he wrote to one of his co-organizers, (reading) it was my own weakness and stupidity that defeated the immediate campaign and jeopardized immeasurably the causes for which I believe I would be willing to die. My behavior stopped progress and has all but made negotiation impossible. I have thought I was dedicated to race and nonviolence, but I now see that the mistakes I made have come because I have really been dedicated to ego.


ABDELFATAH: But by 1960, when Adam Clayton Powell tried to take down Bayard for being gay, he'd come to see things differently.


RUSTIN: Nobody should have to earn the right to be defended. People should be defended because we should defend humans who are in trouble.

D'EMILIO: A separation between Rustin and Dr. King develops.

ARABLOUEI: Bayard found himself on the outskirts of the movement yet again.


RUSTIN: I remember on one occasion somebody said to me, quote, "goodness gracious. You're a socialist, you're a conscientious objector, you're gay, you're Black. How many jeopardies can you afford?"

D'EMILIO: And it's not until 1963, when ideas about a March on Washington begin to circulate, that Rustin comes back into the picture of the racial justice movement.


ARABLOUEI: When we come back, the final sprint to the March on Washington and a government plot that nearly derailed it all.


CHRIS: Hi, you're listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR. My name is Chris (ph). I live in Puerto Rico. I love listening to your podcast. Keep up the great work. Thanks, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Part 3 - To The Promised Land.


JOSH WHITE: (Singing) Well, I always been in trouble 'cause I'm a Black-skinned man...

ABDELFATAH: With the march just a few weeks away, things were looking good. Everything was going according to Bayard's plan. But J. Edgar Hoover, the notoriously shady director of the FBI at the time, tried to dig up some dirt on people linked to the march. And a gay, Black socialist, former communist and conscientious objector...


RUSTIN: How many jeopardies can you afford?

ABDELFATAH: ...Was the perfect target.


WHITE: (Singing) Trouble, jailbreak due someday.

ABDELFATAH: And Hoover knew exactly who to pass the dirt to.

D'EMILIO: A segregationist senator from South Carolina named Strom Thurmond.

HILL: Strom Thurmond, on the floor of the United States Congress, attacked Bayard Rustin as being a pervert and a draft dodger.


STROM THURMOND: The article states that he was convicted in 1953 in Pasadena, Calif., of a morals charge.

NAEGLE: And his arrest record was read into the Senate record.


THURMOND: The conviction was sex perversion.

D'EMILIO: And Strom Thurmond announces that this March on Washington that is coming is being organized by a convicted sex pervert.


RUSTIN: The senator is not interested in me if I were a murderer, a thief, a liar or a pervert. The senator is interested in attacking me because he is interested in destroying the movement. He will not get away with this.

ABDELFATAH: A media firestorm ensued. And the big question was, what would happen to Bayard?

HILL: A. Philip Randolph, at that point, called a press conference and indicated that Bayard Rustin would remain the deputy director and chief organizer of the march, and he had full and complete confidence in the ability of Bayard Rustin and that the march would indeed go forward.


RUSTIN: This is from The New York Times of August 16, 1963, which says, "Negroes Rally Aide Rebuts Senate." So...

HILL: That certainly was a turning point in by Bayard Rustin's civil rights career. He was given credit for being the organizing architect of the march itself.

ABDELFATAH: For the first time in his life, Bayard didn't have to retreat. Exposure didn't lead to exile, all because A. Philip Randolph decided to break the cycle.


ABDELFATAH: Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one day left until the march.

HOROWITZ: It's very strange. I have a bit of amnesia about how - I can't remember how I got to Washington. I think Joyce told me we flew down.

LADNER: We all took trains down to Washington, and we all checked into the Statler Hilton. The one person who didn't take the train down was Eleanor Holmes Norton because Bayard felt that one person should stay behind to take any last-minute calls or whatever.

HOROWITZ: What I remember mostly about that day is, you know, running around, trying to set things up.

LADNER: It's just a lot of people, people I'd never seen before, you know, leaders like Norm Hill. And I was just so excited whenever I saw someone from Mississippi.

HILL: There was both great anticipation and also hesitancy and some fear. No one knew exactly what the numbers would be like.

LADNER: You know, it was like, OK, we've done all the planning. Now we hold our breath and see how it all comes to fruition.

HOROWITZ: But there was the famous moment when Bayard came dashing through this big room that we were using at the Statler. And he said, where's John Lewis? Get John Lewis.

RUSTIN: The fact is that John Lewis wrote a speech which was not within the guidelines of what the leadership had agreed to.

HOROWITZ: Courtland Cox had put John Lewis' speech out on the table. And...

LADNER: All the reporters immediately got copies of it.

HOROWITZ: And it hit the fan.

LADNER: There was a section in John's speech, something like if violence doesn't stop, we will have no choice but to march through the South the way General Sherman did.

HOROWITZ: And finally, they found him, and they began meeting all day and night.


HILL: August 28, 1963...

LADNER: We got up early.

HOROWITZ: We woke up very early.

HILL: We had breakfast at the hotel.

LADNER: I don't remember if we grabbed a quick breakfast or not. But I know that at 6 a.m...

HOROWITZ: We went to the tent. I was supposed to, at the tent, be answering a phone in case there were emergencies of transportation, like cars broke down. And I gave a very technical answer to people, which was hitch a ride. Get in. I don't know. I had no idea.

LADNER: And afterwards, we walked over, walked on the Mall over to the site of the march.

HILL: Where there was to be a pre-march musical presentation.


BOB DYLAN: (Singing) A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood. A finger fired...

LADNER: I remember being there to hear Bobby. We called Bob Dylan Bobby. And Joan Baez sang, as did Peter, Paul and Mary.


JOAN BAEZ: (Singing) We are not afraid today.

HILL: a number of reporters saw Bayard Rustin and moved toward him because, at that point, being that early in the morning, there was no evidence of marchers. And they asked Bayard Rustin if that - where was the march? Would it still come off? And so, using a British accent, he pulled a piece of paper out of his coat jacket and said, indeed, gentlemen, everything is on schedule. What they didn't know was that the piece of paper was blank. An hour later, the marchers began coming into Washington, D.C., in a historic fashion.

HOROWITZ: We were all very ecstatic because the people were just coming in by throngs. They were singing. They were happy, and we knew it was going to be a success.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Well, if the FBI would investigate, then probably then we could integrate.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Yeah. Keep your eyes on prize. Hold on.


RANDOLPH: Fellow Americans, we are gathered here in the largest demonstration. We are the advanced guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom.

I have the pleasure to present to this great audience young John Lewis.

JOHN LEWIS: We march today for jobs and freedom.

KING: In what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation...

RUSTIN: The first demand is that we have effective civil rights legislation, no...

LADNER: People have asked me often, what was the thing you remember most about the March on Washington? I always say the crowd. It was unimaginable to see 200,000 people anywhere at that time. Looking out at that crowd from a small town in Mississippi, I have this kind of feeling that comes up in me, a sense of awe and pride and so on. It feels a certain way, and I still get it. I remember thinking very clearly that they support us. They support us.


HILL: We sort of basked in the glory of the day. And each of us went back to the hotel. We were tired but had a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

LADNER: And I walked back into the hotel. I saw this crowd of people standing around a man in the lobby.


MALCOLM X: The same clique that put Kennedy in power joined the March on Washington. It's just like when you got some coffee that's too black, which means it's too strong.

LADNER: And I immediately recognized it to be Malcolm X.


MALCOLM X: They called in Wilkins. They called in Randolph. They called in these national Negro leaders that you respect and told them, call it off. Kennedy said, look; you're all letting this thing go too far. And old Tom said, boss, I can't stop it 'cause I didn't start it.


LADNER: I remember a few things he said, one of which was that this is the farce on Washington. It is not a March on Washington. And he went on to talk about how Negroes were out there bowing down between two white men, between Lincoln and Washington. So it was the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. I was struck by his ramrod posture and his reddish-looking hair. And I couldn't articulate all of it at the time, but I just thought he was such a proud-looking man, you know? I stood around there a long time and just looked at him, and then I started thinking, you know, whose vision was going to prevail?


ARABLOUEI: Soon after the march, President Kennedy invited leaders of the march to the White House, relieved it had gone off without incident. And Bayard was recognized like never before.

D'EMILIO: He and Mr. Randolph appear on the cover of Life magazine, which is one of the most popular weekly magazines in the United States. And so it was a wonderful moment for him. It was a wonderful moment.


RUSTIN: I think the greatest moment in my life was when I saw tears roll down the face of A. Philip Randolph, who, in my view, was the greatest leader of the 20th century in terms of the basic analysis and program for Blacks. He is a man that history does not record so well as many others, but to me, he was a giant.

LADNER: And Bayard then decided he would set up the A. Philip Randolph Institute primarily to work on the economic question, which is the A. Philip Randolph question, and to work with Black trade unionists.

ARABLOUEI: It was the question that had started it all, the entire march, but had been pushed to the background.

HILL: I think what is overlooked is that the thrust of the march had a class dimension as well as a civil rights dimension and that, in fact, the class dimension remains most relevant today in the current focus.


ABDELFATAH: Just a few weeks after the march, a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., left four girls dead and many injured. And nonviolence just didn't seem like a good enough response to many in the movement.

LADNER: It was hard to maintain a belief in nonviolence when we saw all of these horrendous - you know, burning of churches and homes and beating people and even murdering them, you know?

ABDELFATAH: As time went on, those in the movement began calling for a revolution. And Bayard, on the other hand, was saying they should work within the political system.

D'EMILIO: At a time when the war in Vietnam is escalating and a Black power movement is about to explode into existence, to many of Rustin's fellow activists, it seems like he is selling out. And it meant that in the later years of his life, even though he remained an activist until his death and took on new issues, including global issues, he found himself alienated from those who might describe themselves as radicals - radicals on the left.

ARABLOUEI: And he came under attack for what some saw as inconsistencies in his views. He was a lifelong pacifist, yet he was kind of ambivalent on Vietnam, opposing it very quietly.

HOROWITZ: Undoubtedly, Lyndon Johnson played a role in it. Here is this president who has done more for civil rights than any other president. So let's not confuse these things.

ABDELFATAH: He was a self-avowed socialist, yet he had increasingly conservative takes on economic issues like affirmative action and reparations for slavery. He was opposed to both.

ARABLOUEI: Then there was his stance on Israel. Despite his work with refugees and anticolonial movements worldwide...

HOROWITZ: Bayard was absolutely convinced that next to the labor movement, the Jewish community had been the greatest support of the labor movement and that Israel at that point - erase Netanyahu from your head, (laughter) right? - it was a labor government and progressive people and therefore, he believed, it should be supported.


HOROWITZ: Bayard always said about pacificism that one of its problems - even though he was a personal pacifist - that at some point if you're a pacifist, you have to give in to the oppressor. And so, for instance, he changed his point of view that he had gone to prison during World War II as a conscientious objector and refused to fight. By the time I knew him, he said had he known what was going on in terms of the Holocaust, he would have gone as an ambulance driver. He would not have picked up arms himself, but he would have not opposed the war the way he did.


ABDELFATAH: Bayard was constantly questioning his assumptions, evolving his views. Malcolm X and Dr. King famously did the same over the course of their lives. And like them, he is the sum of many, sometimes contradictory, parts. But then, aren't we all.

ARABLOUEI: A movement works much the same way, bringing together many voices, some louder than others, and many people, some recognized and some less visible.

NAEGLE: It's about all of those people who got out there and marched or who got out there and sat in and got out there and demonstrated. You know, most of those names and faces we'll never really know about. But a movement is about moving people. And Bayard's contribution really was the ability to organize masses of people.

Everybody can have a role in a movement, you know? You may not all be able to be Dr. King, you may not all be able to be A. Philip Randolph or even Bayard Rustin, but maybe you're a great artist or maybe you're a great writer, and you can contribute in that way. So we all have a role to play. We can't sit around waiting for the one leader to come and take us to the promised land.


RUSTIN: What is more important to bring about change as a society, changed individuals or a changed social structure? The answer to that is very simple because if you don't start out with individuals who are determined to change something, you will never get a political consensus.


ABDELFATAH: That's it for this week's show. I'm Rund Abdelfatah.

ARABLOUEI: I'm Ramtin Arablouei. And you've been listening to THROUGHLINE from NPR.

ABDELFATAH: This episode was produced by me.

ARABLOUEI: And me and...







ARABLOUEI: Fact-checking for this episode was done by Kevin Volkl.

ABDELFATAH: Thank you to Walter Naegle for providing us with so much amazing archival material.

ARABLOUEI: Thanks also to Beth Donovan, Yolanda Sangweni and Anya Grundmann.

ABDELFATAH: Our music was composed by Ramtin and his band Drop Electric, which includes...

ANYA MIZANI: Anya Mizani.

SHO FUJIWARA: Sho Fujiwara

NAVID MARVI: Navid Marvi.

ARABLOUEI: As always, if you have an idea or like something you heard on the show, email us at or hit us up on Twitter @ThroughlineNPR.

ABDELFATAH: Thanks for listening.


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