Who organized the March on Washington? Easy — Martin Luther King Jr., right?
Actually, it was his organizer and strategist Bayard Rustin. Rustin was a staple in the Civil Rights Movement and organized the event where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
If that name does not sound familiar, do not feel bad. Director of the Kent State LGBTQ+ Student Center Ken Ditlevson says he did not know who Rustin was until he came into his current role.
“In all of the history courses I went through, and all through [school] he was never mentioned,” Ditlevson said. “And I feel like it is definitely because he was gay; he was erased.”
The LGBTQ+ Student Center used this month’s “Film Friday” to celebrate Black History Month and watched a documentary to explore the intersection of black and queer history. Senior peace and conflict studies major Nate Perry-Wilson chose to watch “Brother Outsider,” an award-winning documentary about Bayard Rustin’s legacy.
Many students had to sit with the film for a moment after it ended to gather their thoughts. The part of the film that seemed to stick with most people was when Martin Luther King cut all ties with Rustin when it was rumored that the two were lovers.
“This made me look at the Civil Rights movement in a different light,” Perry-Wilson said. “I still respect Martin Luther King, but it made me look at him differently.”
Everyone nodded in agreement. Junior visual communication design major Marcus Molina took a moment to gather his thoughts.
“Especially since it’s someone that you look up to for the majority of your life,” Molina said. “I’m questioning if MLK would have stood by Rustin, how would things be different in history?”
Rustin served 26 months of a 3-year sentence for refusing to serve in World War II. Junior Arabic translation major Kevin Hull saw his own struggle reflected in Rustin.
“I know with my major, I’ve heard that I can get a job with the government and they might pay off my student loans, and for me, it’s an ethical dilemma,” Hull said. “Do I support the system? Could I make a difference, or am I selling my soul to the devil to get my dad out of debt?”
Others saw Rustin’s dedication to his pacifism as inspiring. Rustin urged King to oppose the war two years before King publicly did so.
“He really stuck to his guns and didn’t compromise,” Ditlevson said.
For some, it was the way Rustin was never ashamed of his queerness. Even after going to jail after being caught with two men, he never compromised his pride in his sexuality.
“For me, it was the intersectionality of how his queerness affected his activism,” senior physics major Kaitlyn Ruffin said. “I live with that too.”
Kimmy Daniels is a reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.