Better late than never, via commentor J.Ty. Hard to think of a more deserving recipient:
[Last] Thursday, the White House announced that Bayard Rustin, the trailblazing civil rights activist, will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
The timing couldn’t be better. Rustin was a key advisor to Martin Luther King and the primary organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — a job he seemed to have prepared for all his life. Many Americans will be celebrating that event’s 50th anniversary on August 28, and insisting that the country complete the march’s unfinished business of economic justice, full employment, voting rights, and equal opportunity.
Honoring Rustin with the Medal of Freedom tells us something about how far America has come as a nation in the past 50 years. After all, he had four strikes against him. He was a pacifist, a radical, black and gay. Controversy surrounded him all his life.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, Rustin marshaled his considerable talents — as an organizer, strategist, speaker and writer — to challenge the economic and racial status quo. Always an outsider, he helped catalyze the civil-rights movement with courageous acts of resistance. Rustin was a brilliant thinker and strategist, but given his political liabilities as a gay, black, radical pacifist, he also relied on his incredible charm to win converts to the causes of peace and civil rights. A remarkable tenor, he frequently sang gospel and blues songs for his audiences. Had he not become an organizer, he could have become a popular entertainer.
Rustin is not as well known as other civil rights leaders in large part because of his homosexuality and his brief flirtation, during his twenties, with Communism. Although highly respected in labor, pacifist, and civil rights circles, he was typically a behind-the-scenes organizer rather than a public figure…
I remember, back in the 60s, my union-dockmaster father telling me that Rustin had been written out of America’s political history because (I quote), “the chickenshit Goo-goos were afraid of being associated with a guy might get called a Commie.” The old man was temperamentally incapable of pacifism, but he respected honest pacifists and despised ‘tough guys’ whose only bravery was big talk cheerleading mob violence.