Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was an African-American civil rights activist, important largely behind the scenes in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and earlier and principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He counseled Martin Luther King, Jr. on the techniques of nonviolent resistance. Rustin was openly gay and advocated on behalf of gay and lesbian causes in the latter part of his career.
Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was raised by his maternal grandparents. Rustin's grandmother, Julia, was a Quaker, though she attended her husband's A.M.E. Church. He was also a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). NAACP leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson were frequent guests in the Rustin home. With these influences in his early life, Rustin campaigned against racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws in his youth.
In 1932, Rustin entered Wilberforce University, but left in 1936 before taking his final exams. He also attended Cheyney State Teachers College, now called Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. After completing an activist training program conducted by the American Friends Service Committee, Rustin moved to Harlem in 1937 and began studying at City College of New York. There he became involved in efforts to free the Scottsboro Boys — nine young black men who had been accused falsely of raping two white women. He also became a member of the Young Communist League in 1936.
A year before his death in 1987, Rustin said: "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated."