The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States, in which the White House honors those who have made a major contribution to the security and interest of the U.S. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded 16 U.S. citizens this award including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Sally Ride, C.T. Vivian, and Loretta Lynn.
Included in this list was Bayard Rustin, awarded posthumously, and who is profiled in the City Lights book, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters.
Rustin was, according to the White House, “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”
Below is a video of Obama recognizing Rustin’s achievements – a leading activist of the early 1947–1955 civil-rights movement, helping to initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge with civil disobedience racial segregation on interstate busing among many others:
Obama: “[E]arly in the morning the day of the March on Washington, the National Mall was far from full and some in the press were beginning to wonder if the event would be a failure. But the march’s chief organizer, Bayard Rustin, didn’t panic. As the story goes, he looked down at a piece of paper, looked back up, and reassured reporters that everything was right on schedule. The only thing those reporters didn’t know was that the paper he was holding was blank. (Laughter.) He didn’t know how it was going to work out, but Bayard had an unshakable optimism, nerves of steel, and, most importantly, a faith that if the cause is just and people are organized, nothing can stand in our way.
“So, for decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay. No medal can change that, but today, we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love.”
For more Bayard Rustin, check out I Must Resist published by City Lights books which includes a foreword by Julian Bond and is edited by Michael G. Long.