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Rustin, Bayard (1910-1987)

Bayard Rustin was one of the most important, and yet least known, Civil Rights advocates in the twentieth century. He was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania and raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandmother, Julia, was both a Quaker and an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Quakerism, and NAACP leaders W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, who were frequent visitors, proved influential in Rustins life.  

Rustin attended Wilberforce University (1932-1936) and Cheyney State Teachers College (1936), in each instance without graduating. After completing an activist training program conducted by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), he moved to Harlem, New York in 1937. In Harlem, he enrolled at the City College of New York, began singing in local clubs with black folksingers including John White and Huddie Ledbetter, became active in the efforts to free the Scottsboro Boys, and joined the Young Communist League, motivated by their advocacy of racial equality.

By 1941, Rustin quit the Communist Party and began working with union organizer A. Philip Randolph and A.J. Muste, leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Together they organized the March on Washington Movement which protested segregation in the military and African Americans exclusion from employment in defense industries.  Their protests resulted in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issuing Executive Order 8802 creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

Rustin along with FOR members George Houser, Bernice Fisher, and James L. Farmer helped create the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which pioneered the civil rights strategy of non-violent direct action. In 1944, he traveled to California to help protect the property of Japanese Americans interned during the war. In 1947, he and Houser organized the Journey of Reconciliation, the first Freedom Ride testing the Supreme Court decision outlawing racial discrimination in interstate travel. After organizing FORs

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