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(1965) Bayard Rustin, “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement”

Bayard Rustin, a co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942 had become by the 1960s an experienced civil rights and peace activist.  During much of that decade he was a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King.  In this address originally printed in Commentary, Rustin argues that the movement upon achieving its immediate goals including public accommodations desegregation and voting rights, would then turn to the much more difficult question of economic justice.  

What is the value of winning access to public accommodations for those who lack money to use them? The minute the movement faced this question, it was compelled to expand its vision beyond race relations to economic relations, including the role of education in modern society.  And what also became clear is that all these interrelated problems, by their very nature, are not soluble by private, voluntary efforts but require government action or politics. Already Southern demonstrators had recognized that the most effective way to strike at the police brutality they suffered from was by getting rid of the local sheriff and that meant political action, which in turn meant, and still means, political action within the Democratic party where the only meaningful primary contests in the South are fought.

And so, in Mississippi, thanks largely to the leadership of Bob Moses, a turn toward political action has been taken.  More than voter registration is involved here. A conscious bid for political power is being made, and in the course of that effort a tactical s is being effected: direct action techniques are being subordinated to a strategy calling for the building of community institutions or power bases. Clearly, the implications of this shift reach far beyond Mississippi. What began as a protest movement is being challenged to translate itself into a political movement. Is this the right course? And if it is, can the transformation be accomplished?

The very decade which has witnessed the decline of legal Jim Crow has also seen the rise of de

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