Bayard Rustin: All People Are One

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Bayard Rustin was a civil rights organizer active throughout the 40s, 50, and 60s.

The Bayard Rustin "All People Are One" shirt captures his legacy by highlighting his roots, his techniques, and his accomplishments.

 

Bayard Rustin was born in 1912, in Pennsylvania, and was raised as a Quaker. Quaker views on nonviolence influenced him from an early age and he was a conscientious objector in World War Two (for which he was imprisoned). We include Quaker symbolism on our shirt, highlighting this tradition. Bayard joined, and then later, left, the Communist Party. Bayard’s belief that All People Are One led him beyond just the issues of Civil Rights for Black Americans: he fought on behalf of Japanese who had been sent to camps in World War Two, as well as, later, the Soviet Union’s Jews. After the War, he traveled the world learning and fighting for justice in Africa and India. Bayard was inspired by Gandhian nonviolence, and helped bridge the gap between international and American movements. We commemorate this on the shirt by labeling the concepts of non-violence and soul force. 

Through these spiritual and intellectual roots, as well as his experience with the labor movement, Bayard developed a five-part philosophy that guided his actions. These principles were Respect for Personality, Constitutional Means, Democratic Procedure, Nonviolent Tactics, and the fundamental belief that All People Are One. This final belief united this vision, and helped inspire Bayard’s work in the Civil Rights Movement as well as in projects like his Fellowship Records. His most triumphant moment was the organization of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This March was the culmination of a lifetime of organizing work on Bayard’s part. Twenty-two years earlier, he had begun to organize the March on Washington of 1941, seeking to end racial discrimination in the defense industry. (Before the March could take place, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, granting its demands). Although this March never happened, it inspired the March on Washington in 1963. While most often remembered as the occasion for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the March as a whole was an epic act of political organization and projection of power. Its demands, reproduced on our shirt, are both radical for the time and still relevant today. 

In his years of activism, Bayard not only put on events that moved American history forward, but he trained generations of leaders who went on to found and run organizations that have had a massive impact on our society and politics. Unfortunately, he never got the credit that he so richly deserved. Bayard was a well-known to be a gay man, at a time in which that made him a persona non grata in mainstream political circles right and left. It was not until the 1980s that he began to openly affirm his sexuality. In addition, he was far to the left of mainstream American opinion, and many worried that his attachment to an event like the March on Washington might doom it with the press and the political powers that be. Because of his sexuality, as well as his association with Communism, Bayard missed out on most of the credit that he deserved. And though his legacy in some areas is complicated, and towards the end of his life he broke with many old allies, through all this, he was able to create effective change. We hope that our shirt inspires you with some of the passion for justice that inspired Bayard, and that we can all remember that the people are one.