Bayard Rustin Papers
Scope and Content Note
The collection contains speeches and articles on Soviet Jewry by Bayard Rustin from 1960s-1980s. Also included are publications by the executive secretary of the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews, Moshe Decter— Redemption! Jewish freedom letters from Russia with foreword by Rustin, and "Silence and Yearning: A Report and Analysis of the Status of Soviet Jewry" based on the findings of the Ad Hoc Commssion on the Rights of Soviet Jews, chaired by Rustin.
The collection consists of one folder.
- Creation: undated, 1966, 1970-1972, 1982
- Rustin, Bayard, 1912-1987 (Person)
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For reference questions, please email: email@example.com
Bayard Rustin was among the pioneers of the Soviet Jewry movement in the United States. In 1966 he chaired the historic Ad hoc Commission on Rights of Soviet Jews organized by the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews, leading a panel of six jurors in the Commission’s public tribunal on Jewish life in the Soviet Union. Members of the panel included Telford Taylor, the Nuremberg war trial prosecutor and Columbia University professor of law; Dr. John C. Bennett, president of the Union Theological Seminary; Reverend George B. Ford, pastor emeritus of the Corpus Christi Church; Samuel Fishman representing United Automobile Workers; and Norman Thomas, veteran Socialist leader. The commission collected testimonies from Soviet Jews and compiled them into a report that was delivered to the secretary general of the United Nations. The report urged the international community to demand that the Soviet authorities allow Jews to practice their religion, preserve their culture and to emigrate from the USSR at their will. The testimonies from Soviet Jews were published by Moshe Decter, the executive secretary of the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews, in a separate book— Redemption! Jewish freedom letters from Russia, with a foreword by Rustin. Both the report and the book of testimonies served as call to action for thousands of activists of the Soviet Jewry movement. Through the 1970s and 1980s Rustin wrote many articles on the subject of Soviet Jewry and appeared at many Soviet Jewry movement rallies, demonstrations, vigils, and conferences, in the United States and abroad. He co-sponsored the National Interreligious Task Force on Soviet Jewry. Rustin allied with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an outspoken advocate for Soviet Jewry, and worked closely with Senator Henry Jackson, informing the Jackson–Vanik amendment—a vital legislation that restricted United States trade with the Soviet Union in relation to its treatment of Jews.
Bayard Rustin was a firm believer in unity and cooperation of the African American and Jewish communities. A defender of the democratic state of Israel, he met frequently with Israeli leaders, both in Israel and the United States, and founded Black Americans in Support of Israel (BASIC). He was a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, saying that a Holocaust museum serves not only as a memorial for Jewish people, but as a "warning against hatred and dehumanization whoever is the victim." Rustin urged African Americans to support those community leaders who recognize “a coalition of Black, Hispanics, women, Christians, Jews and other ethnics.” He served on the National Executive Board of the Jewish Labor Committee. In 1978 he received the American Jewish Congress’ annual Stephen Wise Award for “illustrious leadership in the cause of racial justice, world peace and human understanding.”
Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. His Quaker upbringing emphasized personal responsibility for the human condition, which influenced him to take up radical social activism at an early age. As a young man Rustin moved to New York City where he attended City College of New York. He earned his tuition working odd jobs, and as a professional blues singer, performing with Josh White and his Carolinians, and with Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) in Harlem and the famous Café Society nightclub in Greenwich Village.
During his first few years in New York Rustin was affiliated with the Young Communist League—the youth branch of the Communist Party of the United States. When the focus of the Party shifted away from the civil rights, Rustin left it to join the Socialist Party. From that point on he held strong anti-Communist views.
Rustin identified the principal factors which influenced his life as "1) nonviolent tactics; 2) constitutional means; 3) democratic procedures; 4) respect for human personality; 5) a belief that all people are one." A consistent follower of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of pacifism and nonviolent resistance, in 1943, Mr. Rustin was imprisoned in Lewisburg Penitentiary as a conscientious objector. In the late 1940s, Rustin helped organize the first of the Journey of Reconciliation and the subsequent Freedom Rides—nonviolent direct actions that challenged segregation laws on interstate buses in the Southern United States. In 1947 As a Freedom Rider, Rustin was arrested in North Carolina and served 22 days on a chain gang. Rustin had been jailed for protesting the abuses of civil rights in the United States more than 25 other times during his lifetime.
In 1956 Rustin met Martin Luther King, Jr. and became one of the key advisors to him, strongly influencing King's public commitment to nonviolence and playing an important role in the pivotal victories of the civil rights movement in the Deep South. In 1963, he was the chief organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history that demanded civil and economic rights for African Americans. The March served as the inspiration and a practical guide for the Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jews—the largest Jewish political rally in the history of the United States that was held on December 6, 1987 in Washington, D.C. and demanded freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union.
Soon after the 1963 march, Rustin founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute to help involve African Americans in the labor unions. In the 1970s and 1980s Rustin worked to strengthen the labor movement. He combated the spread of Communism in the world and championed the causes of the victims of Cambodian genocide, Vietnamese boat people, and the Solidarity trade union in Poland. He spoke against South African apartheid and raised public awareness of the brutal dictatorships increasingly dominating the African continent.
Bayard Rustin was openly gay in the era when homosexual behavior was still a criminal act throughout the United States. In 1953 he was arrested for homosexual activity and served 60 days in jail. In 1982, before gay marriage became an option anywhere in the United States, Rustin adopted his partner, Walter Naegle, in order to lend legal protection to their relationship. Rustin's openness about his homosexuality made him a target of systematic persecution of the segregationist politicians, and marginalization by many fellow civil rights leaders. This life-long marginalization kept Bayard Rustin’s extraordinary accomplishments largely obscure to the general public, earning him the status of the “lost prophet” among the historians of the civil rights movement. In the 1980s Rustin engaged in gay rights activism and testified on behalf of New York State's Gay Rights Bill describing the LGBT community as "the most vulnerable" and the "new barometer for social change."
In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. The citation in the press release stated: “Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all.”
Bayard Rustin. (2014). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from http://apri.org/bayard-rustin/
Bayard Rustin: A Hero in the Freedom Movement. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from https://freedomhouse.org/blog/bayard-rustin-hero-freedom-movement
D'Emilio, John. Lost Prophet: The Life and times of Bayard Rustin. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2004.
Jews Mourn Bayard Rustin. (1987). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from http://www.jta.org/1987/08/26/archive/jews-mourn-bayard-rustin
Lazin, Fred A. The Struggle for Soviet Jewry in American Politics: Israel versus the American Jewish Establishment. Lexington Books. Rowman and Littlefield. Lanham, Md. 2005.
Rustin, B., and Long, M. G. (2012). I must resist: Bayard Rustin's life in letters. San Francisco: City Lights Books.
Slack, M. (2013). President Obama Honors Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/11/20/president-obama-honors-presidential-medal-freedom-recipients
Taylor, Telford. Courts of Terror: Soviet Criminal Justice and Jewish Emigration. Alfred A. Knopf. New York, NY. 1976.
Language of Materials
The papers of Bayard Rustin, a prominent American civil rights leader, LGBT rights activist, and advocate for the Black-Jewish cooperation in the United States, that focus on his involvement in the American Soviet Jewry movement. The collection contains speeches and articles on Soviet Jewry by Bayard Rustin from 1960s-1980s. Also included are publications by the executive secretary of the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews, Moshe Decter— Redemption! Jewish freedom letters from Russia with foreword by Rustin, and "Silence and Yearning: A Report and Analysis of the Status of Soviet Jewry" based on the findings of the Ad Hoc Commssion on the Rights of Soviet Jews, chaired by Rustin.
The collection is arranged into a single series.
Collection is located in Consolidated Box P30.
Donated by Walter Naegle, partner of Bayard Rustin and the executive director of the Bayard Rustin Fund, in 2008.
Genre / Form
- Guide to the Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) Papers, undated, 1966, 1970-1972, 1982 P-1015
- Processed by Andrey Filimonov
- © 2015
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processed as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation
- November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.