July 22, 2024


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Biographical film Bayard Rustin highlights the organizer of the March on Washington

Biographical film Bayard Rustin highlights the organizer of the March on Washington


he stood up He is 6-foot-1, weighs 190 pounds and moves with the grace of an athlete. An elegant wardrobe that favored linen shirts and elegant ties, Bayard Rustin He wore a Clark Gable mustache, and adopted a British accent that gave him a more affable appearance.

No civil rights leader looked or talked like Rustin. Reverend Martin Luther King was a spiritual nonviolent Guidethe main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington saga and an openly gay black man.”He never apologized “Who he is, or what he believes, or who he wants” during an era when homosexuality was viewed as a perversion worthy of imprisonment.

“He looked great on the speaker’s podium,” he says. Ark Boddingtonwho worked with Rustin in the early 1970s in a labor organization This encouraged black workers to be more active in unions.

“He would get up and talk to some of these black audiences and he could really light them on fire,” Buddington told CNN. “He rarely spoke through text. I would write him a text, and he would completely ignore it.

The man who organized what was then the largest peacetime protest in American history eventually became known as “The Movement.”Unknown hero, He largely faded into obscurity after his death in 1987.

But now Rustin is back in the spotlight. “Rustina biopic depicting how Rustin overcame a host of personal and political obstacles to accomplish the March on Washington, premieres on Netflix today.

The film, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, comes amid a mini-Rustin renaissance. Recent months have also brought a new musical, “Bayard Rustin: Inside Ashland” And new bookBayard Rustin: The Legacy of Protest and Politics, edited by Michael J. Long.

The new film is a good introduction to Rustin and how social change happens. Directed by George C Wolfe, It crackles with energy. the actor Coleman Domingo He embodies so much of Rustin’s charisma and witty wit. The film also reveals how some of the biggest battles civil rights leaders fought to march were with each other, over power and ego.

Much of the film’s urgency is a result of its intense focus. It centers on Rustin’s frantic campaign to organize the march, and shows how he and 200 volunteers summoned 250,000 marchers to Washington with only two months For planning. They did so during the era of ubiquitous typewriters, landlines, and mimeograph machines, long before the Internet or social media existed.

Denver Post/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr., addresses hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

“It was the greatest moment of my life,” Rustin said in an oral history of the civil rights movement titled: “It was the greatest moment of my life.”Voices of freedom.”

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It was one of the greatest moments in American history as well. However, the film offers something more than just a history lesson. It offers at least three lessons on leadership and social change.

Personal, he was He said, It’s who you are when no one’s watching. Rustin’s film and his life illustrates this lesson in several ways.

The civil rights movement was full of charismatic speakers. However, many of its greatest leaders defined themselves not by what they said on camera, but by the decisions they made in secret.

For example, Malcolm But his decision to separate Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, Help seal his greatness. He knew that his decision would likely cost him his life, but he was willing to take this chance because of his integrity.

King’s decision to oppose the Vietnam War was widely unpopular. He lost the support of an American president, black leaders turned against him, and donations to the civil rights organization he co-founded dried up. But he did so because, like Malcolm, he shared a fundamental commitment to his integrity.

Many of the pivotal moments in Rustin’s film, and in the activist’s life, come down to the same moral calculations.

In a tense private meeting captured on film, a. Philip Randolph (Played wonderfully by the actor Glynn Turman) defends Rustin when other civil rights leaders try to kick him out of the march because of his sexual orientation.

Rustin earned the respect of people like Randolph and King in part because of what he did when the cameras weren’t on him.

He was a pacifist and went to prison during World War II rather than violate his beliefs. He spent time in a gang and was severely beaten several times for his activism but refused revenge because of his belief in nonviolence.

He also spent some time in India studying Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. Which he later conveyed to the king – Which prompted some to name it American Gandhi“.

Bureau of Prisons/Donaldson Collection/Michael Oakes Archives/Getty Images

Bayard Rustin as seen in a portrait on August 3, 1945, at Lewisburg Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, after his conviction for failure to register for the draft.

Rustin was heavily involved in almost every major civil rights struggle of the mid-20th century, when many of those movements were unpopular or not covered by the press.

“he [Rustin] “He set a standard of honesty and consistency that was extraordinarily high in his day and much needed in ours.” article About Rustin.

Rustin’s character can also be seen in the way he dealt with his sexuality: no apologies; No double life.

During one scene in the film, he tells King that he will not hide his identity from other civil rights leaders.

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“The day I was born black, I was also born gay,” he says. “Either they believe in freedom and justice for all or they don’t.”

General Omar BradleyIt is known that the American commander during World War II had He said: “Amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics.”

Bradley’s quote may be apocryphal, but it reflects a truism of war. The better equipped armies often win. Battlefield victories often result not from clever strategies, but from logistics—making sure troops have enough supplies and working equipment.

The same principle applies in sports. In the NBA, for example, there are some not-so-famous players on championship teams known as “”Hey glue guys.” They do the dirty work of setting screens, committing tough fouls, rebounding and playing defense.

Rustin was the “glue man” leader of the civil rights movement. Every movement needs one.

Parrish Lewis/Netflix

Colman Domingo, center, plays Bayard Rustin in the film Rustin, which premiered November 17 on Netflix after a short run in theaters.

Rustin was a great organizer because he paid attention to detail. He knew how many sandwiches and portable bathrooms the marchers on Washington would need. He knew how to raise money, how to charter buses to Washington, and how to negotiate with sound engineers to make sure King’s voice could be heard throughout the Mall when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” climate speech.

I felt that watching Rustin organize the march in the film was more interesting than the film’s depiction of the march itself.

There’s a scene in the movie where… Ella Baker, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement who never had it because of her gender, tells Rustin about the Ying and Yang that every movement needs: someone at the front and a logistician behind the scenes. She sees that in Rustin’s partnership with King.

“On your own, you and Martin are fine,” she told Rostin. “But you are together fire“.

Author Rebecca Solnit once books: “Hope calls for action; Action is impossible without hope.”

Solnit says some of the biggest enemies of social change are cynicism and pessimism. Opponents of movements often try to convince protesters that they have no reason to expect them to win.

But Rustin had the ability to inspire marginalized people to believe they could win. One of the best clips in the film shows him forming a group of young black, brown, and white civil rights activists into a crack team that will organize the March on Washington.

David Lee/Netflix

Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin exhorts young civil rights volunteers in a scene from the film “Rustin.”

Rustin’s exuberance reflected the spirit of his time. He lived in another America filled with a can-do spirit. The country defeated fascism during World War II. He rebuilt Europe, pledged to put a man on the moon and eradicate poverty through President Johnson’s Great Society program. This optimism seeps through the film.

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Some of this patriotism may seem naive now, but it provided the civil rights movement with tremendous vitality. There are scenes in the film in which Rustin mobilizes his youth volunteers, scenes that evoke memories of former President Obama’s first campaign, when young people across America were banding together for “hope and change.”

At one point in the film, a young organizer proposes a wild idea, and while the others shout at the person, Rustin praises the volunteer.

“Don’t stifle motivation before it’s born,” he exclaims with a big smile.

Optimism was a key organizing principle for Rustin, says Buddington, who is also a senior scholar emeritus at Rustin. Freedom Housea group that advocates for human rights and promotes democratic change around the world.

“Bayard was among those few individuals who believed that if your cause was just and you had access to the basic tools of democracy, your time would come,” Buddington wrote in a letter. article About Rustin.

“For gay people today living in a democracy, Bayard’s optimism is validated with every new victory for equality.”

There is one danger that comes with a renewed appreciation for Rustin: its complexities are easy to alter. He has always been defined primarily by his sexual orientation – as his enemies often did.

But Rustin said his faith as Quaker It was central to his identity.

“My activism did not stem from being black,” he once said. He said. “It’s basically rooted in my Quaker upbringing.”

A. Camerano/AP

This archive photo taken in April 1969 shows Rustin in his office on Park Avenue in New York City. A Quaker and pacifist, Rustin served as chief strategist for Martin Luther King’s march, but remained mostly in the background because some organizers viewed him as a liability.

Rustin said that these Quaker values ​​were based “on the concept of one human family,” and that racial injustice was a challenge to this belief.

“It required my involvement in the struggle to achieve interracial democracy, but it is very likely that I would have participated if I had been a white person with the same philosophy,” he said.

Rustin was given many nicknames: Great Civil rights activist, Gay pioneer,”American Gandhi“, and “Mr. March to Washington. Maybe it’s time to simply call it the author’s method Cathy Young I did once In an article:

As “a great American and a true hero.”

John Blake is the author of “More Than I Imagined: What a Black Man Discovered About the White Mother He Never Knew.”