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S07 E01: Angelic Troublemakers: The Legacy of Bayard Rustin

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Today's Host

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Kanya Bennett

|Managing director of Government Affairs

Today's Guest

Warning: This transcript was created using AI and will contain several inaccuracies.

Welcome to positive caused the official podcast of the leadership conference on civil and human rights and the leadership conference education fund where we take on the critical civil and human rights issues of our day as we work to save our democracy. I'm your host Kanya Bennett coming to you from Washington, DC.

Today on pause for the cause. We are kicking off season 7 7 and we are joined by three exceptional an expert desk to do so. I really can't imagine a better line up for discussion on the legacy of Bayard Rustin. I am thankful the Stars aligned and we have with us today president clayola Brown had to be A Philip Randolph Institute play Ola is also the international vice president of Workers United SEIU and the senior adviser for strategic partnership and racial Justice at the AFL-CIO. Thank you so much, yet. We also have dr. David John's the executive director of the national black Justice Coalition. David happy to have you welcome. Thank you so much happy to be here and be also have author Michael long. Most recently the editor.

Bayard Rustin a legacy of protest and politics Mike. Thank you for joining us today. Welcome. We are talking about Bayard Rustin along with quite a few folks in society. Actually the recent release of the film rustom has certainly made byard a trending topic this movie Signs of light on the pivotal role that Ruston played and the Civil Rights Movement, especially as the Chief Architect and organizer of one of the defining event of the twentieth century the March on Washington for jobs and freedom in August 1963. So for the leadership conference on civil and human rights and organization that was intimately involved in the march by Earth is family is my colleague Korean, you put it while not a founder of leadership conference Ruston is founder adjacent as a mint tea and close Ally of a Philip.

And off Ruston was also a former chair of the leadership conference, but while byard has long been revered as familial to those who worked alongside him in the pursuit for racial social and economic equality until recently and was often a footnote and our civil rights history perhaps because of his sexuality. I want to turn to our guests now will appreciate the buyer is chapter worthy and fans in Mike's case whole book worthy given his impact on past and present day activism coalition-building and civil rights leadership David. Let's start with you you're at the Helm of the national black Justice Coalition a civil rights organization founded in 2003 and dedicated to the empowerment of black lgbtq plus people as Ruston was a black openly gay man whose life's work was civil rights. Certainly. It is on his shoulders that nbjc.

Sam's talk to us about how your organization is channeling and continuing the legacy of Bayard Rustin Michael's book with the hope that he will see to sign it and I'm always thankful to share space with the indomitable Miss Clairol the brown and I really appreciate a celebrate the Legacy that she continues to a body and the spirit of our brother A Philip Randolph A Philip Randolph and I I think I can speak on his behalf and saying that we are proud to be rusting that what I know and celebrate this about the particulars were having this conversation. Is that this December 2023 in BJC turn 20 years old and we celebrating our twentieth anniversary of the same year the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for jobs at Justice that was conceived of and organized by the brilliant by Rustin and what I know is that.

Barge was a reflection of so many other ways in which he showed up to add value to our democracy into our country. He is someone who is often not remembered for His Brilliant as a strategist and a speechwriter for his beliefs as a Quaker who understood the importance of honoring everyone's Humanity. I love learning about the fact that he played football at would lay somebody out and they will recite poetry to them and it is my honor to lead an organization and nbjc that works to do all of those things that he believed were important and that he works to actualize and ways that we still benefit from today. I'm so thankful for all their brother by your did and the best judges of his legacy which show up if only and the spirit of nonviolent Civil Disobedience that is to be credited to brother buyer and I look forward to so many more people that are named his name.

And falling in love with his legacy. So play let me ask the same question of you and David rightfully acknowledged the way in which you are continuing the legacy of Bayard Rustin from 1965 until 1979 rust and served as president and later as co-chair of the A Philip Randolph Institute in organization of black trade unionists dedicated to Racial equality and economic Justice you are now at the helm of this institute and the modern day labor movement. How are you? Continuing the legacy of Bayard Rustin? First of all, let me say to Conga thank you so very much for the inclusion. We are so proud of our Legacy say that for the rest of them brought to the table. I'm excited because of the others who are on this podcast Michael long has a history that is not challenged in.

We're but revered so Michael, it's great to be on with you. And dr. David John's I watch you young and with all the love in my heart and the price for all that you do. So at the real today to be a part of this but as far as continuing the Legacy, I have no choice because one of Ruston's favorite things to say is that we must have a lot of angelic troublemakers and I'm from the country. So a part of it is making sure that we make the right kind of trouble as we continue to hold up the fight for the cause Reston said something and I'm glad it covered it during the film. He said on the day that he was born. He was also born a homosexual what he did not have that the end of it is what he normally would add to a lot of stuff which was now you deal with it. I love that about his persona. It's also not just his persona, but it is also

A challenge inside a vehicle in Randolph Institute today. We have six chapters that are lgbtq chapters that are called Ruston chapters in addition to the A Philip Randolph Institute chapters that are traditional and these are young people who were looking for a place that they knew they would be welcomed and that their leadership would be appreciated and that who they were was what we were looking for and they came to us through our youth training program. All of them happened to be in the state of North Carolina where we've got fantastic leadership there a young sister Denisha Munford who is also from the lgbtq community just was and started to grow stuff left and right. So the philosophy of rustom is alive and well and kicking and kicking butt too. And in that frame it's making sure that the real principle of organizing strategizing

Appalachian buildings at the top of the list so that the continuation of what he brought and continues to bring to the organization six Ruston chapters. That is amazing. I want to talk about coalition-building. I want to go back to you David about what Coalition looks like right now with respect to those who identify as clear and the movement. So like many in the black queer Community Russ and faces from a nation as a black man and White America and of the gay man with in the civil rights movement and because of the multiple layers of discrimination, we know the Russians voice was marginalized however today and 2023 we have again place that we have six wrestling chapters right there at the Helm of the labor Movement. We have Senator laphonza Butler who became the first openly black lesbian and conquer

Recently, what do you think is the current state of black lgbtq plus visibility in the modern civil rights movement. And how can we work to elevate black lgbtq plus activists and leaders to push on a part of the premise that you provided in framing this which is that Brother buyers boys was marginalized and what I know is that his voice for Berber rates. So very clearly if only and my physical experience hopefully folks can see that he is over my shoulder in my office and I've having this conversation topics about the visually impaired. There's a beautiful picture on a wood frame of Brother buyers surrounded by black and white images popular and referencing the modern civil rights moments that he's responsible for otherwise contributing to and while so many people have not yet met buyer and name.

Have benefited from Endor have been touched by his work and the Legacy there is what folks may know is that he organized the largest Civil Disobedience demonstration in the March on Washington for jobs and justice has 63 with prior to that moment. No one had conceived out there have been clearly marches in the South they were more isolated. But he said let's bring our people to the nation's capital to make demands other people that we send to office and that Legacy existed and showed up when my sister is Tamika Mallory of Linda sarsour produced The Women's March decades later. I thought I hope that the last word of of the ways in which bars voice and his touch and his Brilliance is so very palpable. I heard a part of your question being around representation and then another part of it big around coalition-building and better than the work of nbjc is that one of the strengths of African people is celebrated Community one of my

Favorite authors something for somebody writes in the spirit of intimacy and chapter 13 of their book which is titled homosexuality cold and Gatekeepers what they write as in my Village in West Africa the words lesbian and gay didn't exist. But the word gatekeeper did a Gatekeepers hold the space between community and our ancestors and what I know is that black people by the only logical definition of the word queer because we're not in positions of pejorative privilege or power rather argue and black people who have cried it is because of our marginalization around sexual orientation or gender identity or expression have super powers that enable us to be Gatekeepers and it is our Reliance on community that allows us to resist and rest and experience the cottage or that's required for us to continue to get our beautiful diverse Community closer to Freedom what I celebrate in the nuances.

Is too often the case that it is not safe for adults of us with multiple marginalize identities that might not be hyper visible to publicly disclose or otherwise invite people end to those identities. And as a result of that people don't see us are they feel like we don't exist. The reality is that we have always been here. And so at the same time as there has been a proliferation of bills political beliefs offered legislation for the 600 anti-lgbtq bills across every state in our country more than 100 anti-black primarily at icrt Bells the vast majority of bills Target children who didn't ask to be born, but at the same time as this very pronounced visible desire to use ignorance and hate to stoke fear so that people turn out they hope to vote for a anti Democratic party and leaders. There's also a growing number of black lgbtqia Plaza.

We are transgender expansive elected leaders. I'll land it by saying that I celebrate in. BJC is home to a good trouble network network of angelic troublemakers to use brother by his term and these are leaders who are the front lines and States like Florida where state senator Chevron Joe and state representative. Michelle Raider are working in an environment where all of the political odds are stacked against them when there is a supermajority of Dallas history teacher and a tyrant committed to destroying democracy who is empowered and they stand in the Gap to ensure that our democracy is offended that I country remains strong as a result of the diversity that is always existed here and that the legacy of the contributions that black queer transgender expanse of folks where the baby publicly identified or disclose or not like brother buyer.

Are taught to our children, even when organizations like the College Board shoes profit over telling all parts of our history. Thank you David. Love you. Say one other thing which is to acknowledge that I'm moving around a lot because when I talk about our brother buyer, I get passionate that my body has a visceral response and it is this we would not know Doctor Martin Luther King Junior the third as we do if it were not for brother buyer Beyond being the architect of the March where he gave TBT the Seminole speech that she is still remember for and a Persona 5 so much of his life and Legacy brother byard was his speech writer Kings and so many other he was a strategist to so many leaders of the modern Civil Rights Movement. He was a friend and Confidant who showed up and so many ways both big and small both in public and private.

Spite of the attacks that he endured to no fault of this all for things that he could not have changed and that I don't think he would change if you have the ability to and I want that to be appreciated and celebrate as fast as we continue to get flowers to our leaders like, dr. King and others who very much deserve them brother by deserves his flowers to bring you into this conversation might and I want to go back to something that David was saying about sort of how we view Ruston's role in the movement. Certainly. We know he had tremendous influence on our civil rights leaders the ones who have received sort of the recognition the Acclaim the ones who are well represented in our history books the brand names of the Civil Rights Movement if you will, but talk to me about this marginalization. Is it accurate to say that?

Twitter and extend by yard was pushed to the side though. Obviously his Brilliance his efforts lived through so many when we think about how he was treated by the price of minutes. I think it's rusted was more generalized the better part of his adult life is marginalized because of my sexuality and the film does a really nice job of showing that I believe 1960 Adam Clayton Powell Democratic Congressman of Harlem decided that he didn't want dr. King in A Philip Randolph to march on the Democratic National Convention. And so he called dr. King Eddie threatened. Dr. King by saying this if you don't call off the march on the Democrats, I will go to the meeting and tell them that you're having a sexual affair with Ruston. And dr. Kate the great civil rights leader panicked at that point. It's understandable. Why is a homophobic Society if you're gay or you could be a spittle are you were condemned by religious leaders?

He panics homophobic Society is being painted and he cuts rusting out of his inner circle and that contributed to the marginalization of Frost in it was a clear sign of permission. I believe to continue marginalize resting because his sexuality politics Ruston was thrown in jail because he was conscientious objector during WWII and then refused to appear for military service if I refuse to do anything for the military and thrown in jail because of that he was a hardcore pacifist who protested against nuclear war. He was somebody's been arrested numerous times because of his civil rights work. Yes. He was he was also a former communist and so rested had this rule about him and I believe that his radical past and write to go politics also contributed to his march on the station. We saw this, especially when Roy Wilkins opposed by are becoming the main organ eyes.

For the March Vulcan stated as much and a meeting where the big sticks for deciding who would be the director of the March and Wilkin supposed to rest and not only because he been arrested in 1950 on charges of lewd vagrancy, but also because of his radical politics in the past until Wilkins to contributed to the marginalization of rust info and happy to say that didn't work and Russia became the main organizer of a 1963 March following that I believe it continue to be marginalized in some ways. But yeah, it's accurate to say that he was marginal. I really appreciate you identify and in this response the various causes fire showed up for and certainly I think it was evident that fired with someone who was going to call out all Injustice eating when it impacted wherever and Justice was being Advanced fired was there he was he was he was responsive he was active as you said he took on every

The pacifist he pushed against Japanese internment. You name it the issue of the day was on by our radar. So clay, let me go back to you and let's talk about sort of labor unions in the modern Civil Rights Movement. Certainly fired was there the unions were there at that March on Washington. How do you think unions today can strengthen the efforts the collective efforts of civil rights Advocates and later. Let me back up on your question just a little bit because sometimes the inaccurate assumption that labor unions were there from the very beginning they were not a it took some convincing to have the labor movement be included in the March because of the same kinds of biases that was there and I've got to give you a w it's props they stood up and some

Boarded the march from the very beginning Walter Reuther was not scared of much and he certainly was not afraid of the negative attitudes and voices that were being lifted around Ruston being in the Forefront Randolph himself had a hard time when being considered for the executive Council of the AFL-CIO. So racism was not anything brand new to the labor movement, but it took leaders to step forward to make all of these wonderful things that did happen eventually happen and it took the courage of people like ASA Philip Randolph to speak up and call him out. It also took the PowerHouse of the UAW to say I support what's going on. He was a white guy who didn't have any skin in the game did not have to step up but provided all of the Necessities to help make this more successful. No one wanted to even put the money in for the sound system of the Lord.

Wilda said you know what? We got this I'm paraphrasing of course, but his Union made sure that they would not be speaking just to each other from the stage. There were two hundred thousand plus people on that mall and the goal was to make sure that everyone heard that message as it was being delivered UAW made that happen Randolph's tenacity and strength and speaking back to some of the leadership from the n-double-acp that was dancing around not having Randolph. There was absolutely important and made sure the even when they would think he would Zack and bring him back in even if it's not one title, but another they could not push rusting out because Randolph wasn't having it and dr. King even though he was placed in the position of difficulty when the threat was made that he was going to be tied to a homosexual relationship which did not exist.

Dr. King came forward at a time. When his coverage was absolutely necessary to speak out about the skill the ability of a buyer drustan and the necessity that he brought to the table for making this March that was not even able to be visualized in the heads of some of those leaders that you hear the name of and gloriously lift it up all the time. They couldn't Envision that they would be that many people that came together on the wall for freedom and Justice as long as it gave man was involved. They were proven wrong because it was rusted who organized the young people for that more to a quick who didn't wait for proper paperwork and all the rest of it just did it there were people from all of the communities. He was the personification of coalition-building churches Community leaders recognize when people with respect brought the stuff together and the labor movement today is still living by those principles the kind of foundation a trust and provided in what way

Necessary to develop growth and new leadership is very much a part of this new Labour Movement. We have a woman as president of the AFL-CIO for the very first time initial is kicking butt and taking names. We have a black man a secretary treasurer for the AFL-CIO Fred Redman is doing a yeoman's job Fred Meyer Redmond serves as a chair for the eighth of Randolph Institute in a huge fan of rusted so that Legacy and the lessons and the foundations are right there. We have those six chapters that I mentioned in the state of North Carolina, but we've got a hundred and twenty-nine More Of A Philip Randolph Institute chapters around this country and in states where you would never expect that they would be that kind of open welcome with a lot of legislators understanding exactly what the Institute is. Is it conducive to wear civil rights and human rights should be headed right now to her.

Have the memory and the legacy of rest of the lifted as responsible for it. You double skimpy it is and to make sure that that partnership between Randolph and Ruston gets recognized. Absolutely absolute bike. It may be part of it is just you want to assume right that labor was there all along and Delacey. It was a partner. We were all in a very sort of Kumbaya moment with all of our organizations and certainly has the film rust in the pics that was not the case. So we really appreciate the history. They're even though it made me and right threaded earrings some of our laundry, but it's good. It's good to know that history and it's good to understand sort of how we are able to identify opportunities for shared agenda figure out how to have the solidarity. We need to reach our goals in this fight for equality. So Michael,

Me go back to you. Maybe we do not know about Bayard Rustin In This Moment. Certainly, there's lots of attention being paid to this great civil rights leader in this moment. We know that later in life. He's sort of focused on politics to move from protest to politics. So can you talk about some of the later years of buyers contributions to the civil rights movement and agenda on Segway in the later years you forget sometimes about the March on Washington for jobs and freedom is that it was for jobs. Preston was a Democratic Socialist. This is an important point that we have to remember about Ruston He Like A Philip Randolph really wanted to fart initial late to focus on shots later when they brought into the freedom of this game, but he and

Radical Focus partly because they were calling for the raising of national minimum wage to $2 a free account for today's inflation. And so forth that $2 figure equates to $90 per hour $19 per hour. That's $2 more than what Senator Sanders was calling for. That's $4 more than the flight 415 campaign that gives you some indication of how radical Randolph and Ruston were and their Democratic socialism and they presented their Democratic socialism during the march. I know that my favorite speech that day was A Philip Randolph speech for he is socialization for the United States because restructuring the economy it cost for the government's role and restructuring the economy because replacing people over profit he calls for the creation of the national minimum wage is an astounding speech that we forget and I raised Randolph speech to let us know if that's also rust in speech those two guys were on the same page.

Suing economic Justice and really in his later years. This is why I trust in pursues. He pursues economic Justice. He doesn't import who plays awesome organization A Philip Randolph Institute. I need to fill out this Freedom bunch of Real Americans and the freedom bunch of Real Americans came and economically justice for all and it presents this blueprint for restructuring the economy in a Democratic Socialist way and Ruston pursues. This sometimes his friends say at the expense of the peace movement fighting the Vietnam War or sometimes at the expense of standing against the Johnson Administration when civil rights activist really needed to some of them thought that Preston had compromised his position too much by pursuing you cannot make Justice through political channels. But yeah and 1964 she writes this awesome estate with Tom Kahn his assistant called from protest of politics and they're calling for civil rights activists to move from the streets.

Into the corridors of power so that they can realign the Democratic party throughout the Dixiecrats and build this Progressive Coalition so that they can Advanced economic Justice for All Americans and really am anyways, that's why I trust and devoted his life to following the March on Washington for jobs and freedom wasn't the only thing but it was a big part of it. Thank you Mike so much for sharing with the audience for the where about his work was focused focused on jobs sort of where he started maybe in a different capacity a different contribution. Like you said trying to change Democratic party shift efforts in that way, but very much for the true to really a core part of the agenda upon which you know, he stood so we likes to equip our audience with action items with calls to do something right and I think very much and we're having a conversation about Bayard Rustin. It's right that we should give people a tasket to do.

Do they have listened to this episode? So whether it's joining one of those Rustin chapters there with the A Philip Randolph Institute or engaging in some other way clay. What is your charge for this audience as we bring a close to this conversation? Will it tell you the list is certainly not a short one because what's happening on the hill is scary and we're democracy sets today. I can only imagine what Justin would be saying and doing what Randolph would be preaching even though he was not a preacher. His father was but what he would be putting out there about how is it that we fight for this democracy of ours and taking a look at something that they were both criticized for at the March. There were no women that were speakers Mahalia saying of course, but it was also the encouragement of women like his

rifle sale who was a breadwinner Randolph's wife and allowed him through her economically push to pursue what it was a he was after and it was Ruston's grandmother who encouraged him to just be him but for today the idea and the principle of accepting people for who they are is still something that continues to call for the fight the part for Ethan Ahmad Justice today is just as it was then the separation between where the money is how it gets there and what is the humans were the idea for women's rights today is still the same struggle as it was then although there have been many changes many accomplishments that fight is not over and we must continue to do all of those things that bring about the quality that democracy is laid out on

Top up. All right for lack of a better way of describing it to make sure that it's not just us for some folks and depression for just us that we must be that voice those Angelic troublemakers that continued the struggle that is still ever-present and everything that we do there are disparities Galore and a whole bunch of crazy folks that think that they can run this country and we've got to call them out just like Reston continue to do so the challenges get involved make that noise make the commitment and there are documents that you can pull up from the past that are just as relevant today for how to structure that. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We just have to be a cog in the wheel that is still rolling on the principles of justice for all of us. Thank you so much clay for that very powerful charge.

If y'all see the humanity in one another's stand up show up for cause any calls like you said there was no shortage of the all be Angelic troublemakers and Mike as someone who has really Chronicle documented The Life and Legacy of Bayard Rustin play. Spoke about picking up some of those historical document learning the history right reading reflecting on the contributions a trusted mate our society. We're going to ask her audience right to pick up one of your books. Give it a read Mike has author. Only adult literature book children's literature as well. So that at a young age we can start to get our children acclimated with those leaders who are not sort of those brand name civil rights leaders Mike. What is your charger ask of the audience to ensure that by our Legacy lives on?

I guess two things one is just to make sure that you don't freeze Rustin at the March on Washington for jobs and freedom with tender and Fries are heroes in particular moments in history that we freeze Jackie Robinson, the 1947 winter birds color barrier in major league baseball parks and my ears are going to freeze our Christian at the march of the main organizer. It's a beautiful great moment in Parts life. And in the life of a United States its transformative right Preston was also more than mr. March on Washington. And so I will go backwards in his life and looked at he grounded his work in the March on Washington. And what is grandmother taught him. She was a Riordan to Quaker household and she passed on to buy or the police in equality and human dignity the unity of the family and non-violence and pacifism and he took those principles from

Quakerism what's it called Quaker flavors and then spread them out through the u.s. Society through his work. So I hope will remember that and as we go forward and look at a Residence Life post March, I hope I remember the importance of political action. Just protesting on the streets. That's so important as well rest and never lost sight of that but he did see the importance of building coalitions in the quarters of power and trying to change policy for jobs and for Freedom. So I hope we remember both of those things as we look at a residence life and recall that he was mr. March on Washington and also much more than mr. March on Washington at the same time. Absolutely. This isn't such a great conversation. I want to give a special thanks to my guess play Ola Brown David Jones and Mike long for joining us today. We truly appreciate you sharing your time and adding her.

Ways to pot for the cause. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you serve you thank you sincerely want to work from here right now. Thank you for joining us today on top of the cause the official podcast of the leadership conference on civil and human rights and the leadership conference education fund to stay connected with us. Please visit civilrights.org and hit us up on Instagram and Twitter as civil rights org. You can also text us text civil rights. That's two words civil rights to 52199 to keep up with our latest updates and be sure to subscribe to her show on your favorite podcast app and leave a 5-star review.

And special thanks to our production team for today's episode Evan Hart tongue Taylor Nicholas, Dina Craig Shalonda Hunter Rafaella Valderrama and Ebony Barber. That's it from me your host, Bennett until next time together. Let's keep fighting for America as good as its ideals.