(Photo Credits: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Wolfson, Stanley, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

February marks Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month, guys. This month was especially designated to honor two men namely social reformer, abolitionist, orator, activist, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass; and Abraham Lincoln, who served as the 16th president of the United States. 

Douglass, an escaped slave, did not know his birthday so he commemorated it every February 14 while Lincoln was born on 12th February 1809. The former was the leader of the abolitionist movement (the movement that sought to end slavery). The latter, on the other hand, abolished slavery by signing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. 

The celebration started with “Negro History Week” in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson in order to “raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization.” Woodson was only the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University; and he was an author and historian whose parents—Anne Eliza (Riddle) and James Henry Woodson—were enslaved, USA Today reports

Today, Woodson is known as the “Father of Black History,” and “Negro History Week” was expanded to Black History Month by former U.S. President Gerald Ford in 1976 during the height of the civil rights movement. According to President Ford, the purpose of this annual observance is to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” To know more about Black History Month, click here.

Having said all that, we’d like to honor the iconic gay civil rights leader and advocate for justice Bayard Rustin for Black History Month 2021. Rustin was a chief organizer and close advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was someone who “helped translate the philosophy of nonviolence into direct action by organizing the 1963 March on Washington.” 

Time Magazine called Bayard Rustin the “unknown hero of the civil rights movement” in the United States. Rustin is best remembered as one of the first “freedom riders” and as organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 

An openly gay black man criticized over his sexuality, Rustin reportedly “stayed out of the spotlight because he knew his homosexuality would cost the movement mainstream credibility.”

In 1953, Rustin was arrested and jailed for 50 days in Los Angeles County jail on a “morals charge” after he was caught having sex in a parked car with two men in Pasadena. He was convicted of misdemeanor vagrancy and had to register as a sex offender. 

Sixty-seven years after that arrest, California Governor Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned Bayard Rustin on February 4, 2020 of the aforementioned criminal conviction. Governor Newsom said: “In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish L.G.B.T.Q. people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically.”  

Bayard Taylor Rustin was born on 17 March 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was reportedly one of 12 children raised by his Quaker grandparents, Janifer and Julia Rustin, and it was his grandmother who influenced his religious and political beliefs. He passed away on August 24, 1987 at aged 75 due to perforated appendix. He was survived by Mr. Walter Naegle, his partner of 10 years, whom Rustin adopted in order to protect their union as same-sex marriage was not legal at the time. 

On November 20, 2013, Bayard Rustin was posthumously awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama for championing civil rights and equality during his lifetime and for fighting “tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad.”

For more information on Bayard Rustin, click here, here, and here. You can watch Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer’s Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin here via vimeo

HBO Max also recently released a documentary titled Equal about Bayard Rustin as well as other queer activists namely Dale Jennings and Lorraine Hannsberry to name a few. Watch it here.

To know more about Black History Month and the event highlights for this year, click here.

Happy reading and watching!

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