Bayard Rustin

Bayard on phone

Important Note to Educators!

The following Give Voice to History Project mini-guide is an intentional menu of opportunity. Your experience and expertise as an educator will guide your choices about which question prompts, primary and secondary source resources, and assessment options will best serve your students. Take what makes sense and leave the rest. We applaud you!

Access Points

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and/or coalition activism. Recommended for grades 10+

Rationale for Using Archival Audio Oral History Testimony

Listening promotes active engagement, improves reading, and helps students understand tone, message, and central themes. Listening is also critical to social-emotional learning development.

*Important Note: The language introduced in this Give Voice to History Project resource mirrors language in the primary and secondary source materials. Using historically accurate language is necessary to understand the social, political, and cultural perceptions of those we label and understand today as LGBT+ (including, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, gender non-conforming, intersex, and more).

Suggested Learning Outcomes

Evaluate how Bayard Rustin's beliefs and intersecting identities influenced his activism

Analyze the possible motivations to exclude information, people, and events in the shaping and telling of history

Discover the limitations of the public record

Suggested Essential Questions

Which aspects of Rustin's identity shaped his approach to civil rights activism?

To what extent do cultural understandings of morality shape history?

What are the distinctions between "accuracy" and "truth", and how does this shape your understanding of today's world?

Background Information

Bayard Rustin was a prominent figure in the American civil rights movement, as well as a significant contributor to international human rights efforts. In addition to background information available on the Making Gay History -- The Podcast website, the following chart captures pertinent information about Bayard Rustin.

Bayard Rustin was a ...As a result, Rustin ...
Quakerwas a conscientious objector during WWII and served a 28-month prison sentence 
supporter of black-Jewish cooperationrepudiated anti-Semitism and frequently traveled to Israel for diplomatic summits
supporter of the labor movementworked for equality for blacks in labor and is a member of the Labor Hall of Fame
peace activistconvinced Dr. King to remove the weapons from his home and employ the methods of Ghandi and non-violent tactics
anti-colonialistactively participated in anti-Apartheid efforts in South Africa and anti-colonialism in Southeast Asia

was awarded scholarships for his vocal tenor talents 

Communist Party member

became a member in 1930, but left when its leaders did not permit Rustin to promote integration with other human rights organizations

civil rights strategist

helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, organized the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, Freedom Rides, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Guiding Questions for Making Gay History -- The Podcast Featuring Bayard Rustin and Walter Naegle

  1. How does Rustin describe his family?
  2. What were the possible reasons it required eight years for the committee to determine Rustin's involvement in the movement was dangerous? What were the possible dangers? To whom? To what?
  3. How does Rustin describe Dr. King's strength in 1962 versus 1963?
  4. What were the possible risks the movement took when they invited Rustin back into Dr. King's circle?
  5. What reason does Rustin give for having "no basic apprehension" when Strom Thurmond attacked Rustin's character on the Senate floor in 1963?
  6. What behavior did Rustin understand as "aiding and abetting" prejudice?
  7. What is the connection between Rustin's memory of "that child who was so innocent of race relations" and his decision to live as an openly gay man?
  8. How does Rustin explain freedom and what is needed in a democracy?
  9. Adoption was the only possible way to formalize and legally protect Rustin and Naegle's relationship. What are the implications of this when examining the public record?
  10. Describe what felt "monumental" to Naegle.

Suggested Guiding Questions for Primary and Secondary Source Research and Analysis (recommended sources listed below)

  1. Which aspects of Rustin's identity were considered controversial in the past, and would those same aspects be considered controversial today? Why or why not?
  2. What risks did Dr. King and the movement take when they asked Rustin to retreat?
  3. What were the possible motivations to exclude Rustin's name from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom program?
  4. To what extent did Rustin shape American civil rights?
  5. What were the possible motivations for Rustin's New York Times obituary writer, Eric Pace, to mention Naegle's relationship to Rustin as "adopted son" and "administrative assistant"? What are the implications of this when examining the primary and secondary sources?
  6. What were the possible motivations for Rustin's Washington Post obituary writer, J.Y. Smith, to exclude Naegle? What are the implications of this when examining primary and secondary sources?
  7. President Obama stated that Bayard Rustin "was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay". Who else may have been denied their rightful place in history - and for what reason?
  8. How is Rustin's activism still relevant today?
  9. How do you define civil rights? Who is fighting for civil rights today?
  10. What is the relationship between accuracy and truth as it relates to the evaluation of primary and secondary source materials?

Recommended Primary and Secondary Source Materials

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin movie trailer:

FBI files on Rustin:

Bayard Rustin: The Man Who Organized the March on Washington from NPR: 

Rustin's letter to the U.S. Military Draft Board:

The First Freedom Ride: Bayard Rustin on His Work with CORE:

Rustin singing "You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow", a tribute to Irene Morgan and her 1946 Morgan v. State of Virginia Supreme Court case:

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom program:

Pages from the Organizers' Handbook for the March on Washington:

Audio of Rustin reading the list of demands at the March on Washington:

7-minute video introducing Rustin, including his Quaker roots and connection to the Communist Party:

Bayard Rustin Residence - National Park Service:

New York Times obituary:

Washington Post obituary:

President Obama awarding Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom (9:40 - 10:45):

Suggested Assessment Options

1. Research and explain three (3) quotes from Bayard Rustin, citing evidence from your primary and secondary source research and analysis.

2. Write Bayard Rustin's obituary, including three (3) aspects of his contributions that are most important to you and two (2) aspects of his identity not mentioned in 1987.

3. Write a letter to Walter Naegle, including information about Rustin that impressed and/or surprised you, as well as at least two (2) questions for Walter and a question you would have asked Rustin.

4. BUILDING A NATION Visual Analysis Assessment:

This visual analysis assessment uses the Angela Ales painting Building a Nation to contextualize the American civil rights movement. Ales's video introduction to Building a Nation and biographical information is offered in both English and Spanish. Also included are visual analysis instructions, rubric, and guiding questions. These tools help students organize their evaluation of the form, function, and use of Ales's artistic techniques to convey meaning, and guide their interpretation of who is reflected in Building a Nation by citing historical evidence.

MARCH WITH BAYARD RUSTIN 24" x 36" classroom poster (below) is included in the full Give Voice to History Project curriculum set.