Today we celebrate the works and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. But West Chester has its own connection to MLK.
Bayard Rustin was a civil rights activist who worked closely with Martin Luther King in the early days in Montgomery, Ala. Rustin was born in West Chester, and a high school in the West Chester School district is named after him.
So in honor of his work, here are five things you need to know about Bayard Rustin.
- Rustin was born in West Chester in 1912. He bounced around from college to college before finding his way to New York City where he became an organizer for the Young Communist League. Rustin would eventually leave the Communist League.
- During World War II, Rustin served on the Congress for Racial Equality, and he was sent to California to help protect the property of Japanese Americans who were sent away to internment camps during the war.
- The following comes from a Web site promoting a documentary about Rustin. “In 1956, Rustin was granted temporary leave from his position to assist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. His extensive background in the theory, strategies, and tactics of nonviolent direction action proved invaluable to Dr. King. Mr. Rustin organized the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957, The National Youth Marches for Integrated Schools in 1958 and 1959, and was the Deputy Director and chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which, at that time, was the largest demonstration in the nation’s history.
- Rustin also lived as an out gay man throughout his life. Rustin not only dealt with discrimination due to his race but also due to his sexual orientation.
- Rustin was also an activist for India’s independence from Great Britain. It was during this time that Rustin observed Gandhi’s form of nonviolent protest. Rustin would later encourage MLK to study Gandhi’s methods.