This episode discusses the remarkable figure of Bayard Rustin who pioneered many of the tactics and strategies still used in large scale organizing work. A lifelong and committed Quaker, Rustin is in many ways a paradoxical figure. A utopian realist or pragmatic radical he was criticized for many of the positions he took yet his commitment to people power manifested through nonviolent, democratic means of change and his holistic vision of social, economic, and political transformation was deeply revolutionary. From the 1940s onwards he was at the forefront of struggles for peace, racial equality, economic justice, and the dignity of all people. And as an openly gay man he was constantly harassed and excluded by those he worked with because of his sexuality. Alongside his life, work as an organizer, Quaker theology, and democratic vision, this two part episode discusses his seminal essay "From Protest to Politics," still used by organizers today.
In this first part, I talk to Sarah Azaransky who teaches at Union Theological Seminary. Sarah is writing a book on Rustin and has researched and written extensively on the historical influences and figures that shaped the civil rights movement. These include a biography of Pauli Murray, another key figure of the struggle for civil rights, as well as a history of the interaction between civil rights leaders in the US and the Indian independence movement led by Gandhi.
Sarah Azaransky teaches social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is author of The Dream is Freedom: Pauli Murray and American Democratic Faith (2011) and This Worldwide Struggle: Religion and the International Roots of the Civil Rights Movement (2017). She is working on a volume about Bayard Rustin to be published in Eerdmans' "Library of Religious Biography" series.
Resources for Going Deeper
Bayard Rustin, “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement (1964),” Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, eds., Devon Carbado & Donald Wise, 2nd edn (New York: Cleis Press, 2015), 116-146. Also available online.
Bayard Rustin, Strategies for Freedom: The Changing Patterns of Black Protest (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976).
Jerald Podair, Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009). Concise biography that directly addresses Rustin’s work as an organizer and his political philosophy.
George Shulman, “Bayard Rustin: Between Democratic Theory and Black Political Thought,” African American Political Thought: A Collected History (Chicago” Chicago University Press, 2021), 439-459. A superb essay that reflects on how the tensions and contradictions in Rustin’s life and how his debates with Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Staughton Lynd articulate the condition and possibilities of democratic politics today.
Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2003), dir. Nancy Kates & Bennett Singer. Documentary film about Rustin’s life.