It was hard enough to be a black in America at the height of the civil rights movement. To also be a gay at the time only furthered that hardship. Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin was unfortunately a victim of laws put in place to punish those in the LGBTQ community. While much delayed, he has finally received some measure of justice.
According to CNN, Califonia Gov. Gavin Newsom has posthumously pardoned Rustin. He was arrested and jailed 67 years ago when he was found having sex with two men in a parked car shortly after giving a speech in Pasadena. He was jailed on a “morals charge,” convicted of misdemeanor vagrancy and had to serve 60 days in jail. The incident in question was used against Rustin and the civil rights movement on the whole. U.S Senator and one of the great assholes of history, Strom Thurmond, would read Rustin’s arrest record into the Congressional Record. It also resulted in him being put on the sex offender list. Newsom said this during the pardon:
“With this act of executive clemency, I acknowledge the inherent injustice of this conviction, an injustice that was compounded by his political opponents’ use of the record of this case to try to undermine him, his associates, and the civil rights movement.”
Rustin isn’t one of the first names you first think of when it comes to the civil rights movement but he was one of the more pivotal figures. He became a close friend and confident to Martin Luther King Jr. after the Montgomery bus boycott. He was instrumental in pushing the movement towards non-violent protest. Rustin also was one of the key organizers behind the 1963 March on Washington where King would give his historic “I Have A Dream,” speech. He would go on to be one of the founding members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Rustin died on Aug. 24, 1987. While he didn’t get the justice he deserved in life, one hopes that this pardon and the removal of his status as a sex offender will allow his legacy to endure unbesmirched.