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Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

September 22, 2015

BONot many people know that Martin Luther King’s right-hand-man was gay.

Long before Martin Luther King, Jr. became a national figure, Bayard Rustin routinely put his body and his life on the line as a crusader for racial justice. His commitment to pacifism and his advocacy of Gandhian nonviolence made him a pioneer in the 1940s, and captured King’s imagination in the 1950s. In 1963, with more than 20 years of organizing experience behind him, Rustin brought his unique skills to the crowning glory of his civil rights career: his work organizing the historic March on Washington, the biggest protest America had ever witnessed.

But Rustin was also seen as a political liability. He was openly gay during the fiercely homophobic era of the 40s and 50s; as a result, he was frequently shunned by the very civil rights movement he helped create.

Though Bayard Rustin did not keep a journal, the film uses his first-person voice wherever possible, gleaned from his extensive writings (compiled in the volume Down the Line, published in 1971, and other unpublished collections), papers and personal correspondence, and numerous recorded interviews.

“Bayard Rustin was an extraordinary American who’s been slighted in the historical record because he was gay,” says filmmaker Nancy Kates. “We wanted not only to correct that record but also examine what Rustin’s amazing life teaches us about issues of equity and the fight for social justice.”

King had armed guards to protect his home. Rustin tells King: “You’re the leader of a nonviolent movement, and yet you have guns in your home and these armed guards outside.”

King responds, “Would you risk your family for a tactic?” Rustin answers, “Nonviolence is not a tactic… Nonviolence is an ideology… It is a movement, a way of life, a religion!”

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