Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2022-06-08



CHICAGO GAY HISTORY: 1951, Bayard Rustin in Chicago
by John D'Emilio

This article shared 7509 times since Mon Sep 1, 2008
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

So what is 'gay history' anyway? Or LGBT history' Or queer history' ?

Usually, the way it's written, it's about people in groups: how they live, how they're oppressed, how they've resisted. We have histories of lesbian bar life; of queer resorts like Fire Island; of the homophile movement; of transgender identity; of the persecutions during the McCarthy era. In other words, historians tend to write about topics that scream 'queer' at us in bright flashing neon.

But what about all the folks who didn't lead queer-centered lives? I don't mean people in the closet. I mean those whose lives didn't revolve around their being gay or lesbian. Or those who crossed from one gender to another, but then just went about the business of living.

I wrote a biography of one such person. His name is Bayard Rustin. Rustin is one of those very-important-but-hardly-known individuals who don't get much space in history books. His biggest claim to fame is that he organized the massive 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the memorable 'I Have a Dream' speech.

But Rustin did so much more. In the 1940s, before the civil rights movement captured front-page headlines, he was introducing Gandhi's philosophy of militant non-violence to the black freedom struggle. He rode buses, sat in at restaurants, and generally put himself in places where black men were not supposed to be. When the Reverend King was a young unknown minister leading a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, Rustin tutored King in nonviolence. Long before the world's nuclear powers banned atmospheric testing of atomic weapons ( in the 1950s, the U.S. government was exploding bombs in Nevada! ) , Rustin led protests on three continents. He inspired many young men and women to take the plunge into a life of social justice activism.

Without question, Rustin was a gay man. He went cruising. He had sex with guys. He had boyfriends and long-term relationships. But Rustin didn't live in a gay world. He spent his time primarily among activists in the peace and racial justice and labor movements. In these environments, Rustin did not go around announcing his sexual identity in conversations.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, Rustin came to Chicago many times ' for conferences, lectures, or meetings. Sometimes a quick trip might turn into something more. In 1942, he was here to confer with other pacifists who were developing Gandhian strategies to challenge segregation. Staying in Hyde Park, Rustin went to a local barber shop for a haircut but was denied service. He conducted a spontaneous sit-in that turned into a larger protest until, finally, the barber acceded and cut Rustin's hair.

In the summer of 1951, Rustin was in Chicago for several weeks. Harvey Clark, a World War II veteran and CTA bus driver, had rented an apartment in Cicero. The Clarks were the first black family in Cicero. Local whites were not pleased. The day the Clarks moved in, a crowd gathered and began smashing windows. The Clarks stayed away the next day, but that evening the crowd swelled to several thousand. White rioters shattered more windows in the building; tore doors off their hinges; heaved furniture through windows and set it afire; and ripped out the building's plumbing. By the next day, the rioters numbered 10,000, and the governor had to call in the National Guard.

The American Friends Service Committee brought Rustin to Chicago to help with the situation. For several weeks he attended community meetings on the South Side of Chicago to plan a response. He worked with parish priests to educate their white parishioners about racial injustice. He organized youth groups to channel their energy toward constructive responses. He met with newspaper editors in Chicago and the suburbs.

I imagine Rustin in these settings and I wonder: did the folks who worked with him realize that this impressive fighter for justice, whom they admired so much, was a gay man?

Rustin wasn't one to come out, at least not in the way gay men or lesbians do today. But Rustin was visible in the sense that he didn't pretend to be straight. He didn't make up an imaginary heterosexual life for himself. If he was going out with someone, he brought the guy with him to parties and public events. People wouldn't say anything, but they noticed.

Rustin was visible in yet another way. He didn't behave or look like a regular guy, black or white. His style of speech was clipped and cultured, in a way that sounded haughty and refined; his way of dressing was perhaps a little too careful and stylish; his mannerisms bordered sometimes on the precious and the fey. All these marked him as different. Again, no one in his political circles was likely to say anything, but it registered. As Rustin moved among activists and community leaders in Chicago, did they think to themselves 'he's queer, isn't he?' What kind of impression did Rustin leave behind?

Less than 18 months later, Rustin's sexuality became news in Chicago. In January 1953, Rustin and two other men were arrested at night in a parked car on a deserted street in downtown Pasadena. Rustin served sixty days in jail on charges of lewd vagrancy. The Chicago Tribune ran a story on the second page with the headline 'Morals Charge Jails Booster of World Peace.' It mentioned that, in November, Rustin had spoken in Chicago before the 'Young Men's Luncheon Group' of the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations. The detail preyed upon fears that homosexual corrupt youth. The Tribune ran another article the next day: 'Negro Lecturer Sentenced on Morals Charge.' A few days later, the Chicago Defender, an African American paper with a national circulation, carried a front-page headline: 'Bayard Rustin Jailed on Morals Charge.' The article included this statement: 'Sexual deviates are often referred to as 'queers.''

Miraculously, Rustin was able to salvage his career as a Gandhian activist. He continued his work and his travels, including repeated trips to Chicago. The lengthiest of these later trips came in 1966, when the civil rights leadership in Chicago invited Dr. King to help them organize demonstrations against segregated housing. The protests were met with lots of violence from whites, and the events were front-page news for weeks. Rustin was in Chicago often that year, working with King and with local leaders.

Unlike in 1951, when his sexuality remained a matter of silent speculation, now his gay identity was very public. In the years after the Pasadena arrest, as he traveled around the country on lecture tours, right-wing organizations trotted out his conviction on sex charges. In 1963, two weeks before the March on Washington, a segregationist Senator denounced him in Congress and put information about his arrest into the Congressional Record.

Rustin never let these attacks stop him. He kept marching, he kept organizing, he kept speaking out for peace, racial equality, and economic justice. His work kept winning the respect of the many activists who encountered him, even as the gay label trailed him.

In these decades, he never organized a gay demonstration or spoke at a gay event or lobbied for gay rights. Still, I can't help feeling that the combination of his integrity as a fighter for justice and his visibility as a gay man somehow contributed to the gay struggle for justice. In ways that historians can't measure, Rustin contributed to the new era that began to take shape after Stonewall.

This article shared 7509 times since Mon Sep 1, 2008
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


Gay News

Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes first Black woman on U.S. Supreme Court 2022-06-30
- On June 30, Ketanji Brown Jackson marked a milestone in U.S. representation when she was sworn in as the first Black woman in history to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. She also becomes only the ...

Gay News

Pride Live hosts NYC center groundbreaking, 'Stonewall Day' 2022-06-25
- On June 24, Pride Live held an official groundbreaking ceremony for the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center (SNMVC), which is the first LGBTQ+ visitor center within the National Park System. Slated to open on June 28, ...

Gay News

'General Hospital,' Kelly Clarkson among Daytime Emmy winners 2022-06-25
- ABC's General Hospital—already the winningest sudser in daytime history—was named Outstanding Daytime Drama on June 24 while The Kelly Clarkson Show took home the prize for Outstanding Talk Show at the 49th annual Daytime Emmy Awards. ...

Gay News

Out at CHM: Panelists discuss HIV/AIDS' continued impact on dance community 2022-06-25
- The Chicago History Museum (CHM) hosted a June 23 panel with doctors and dancers who shared their experiences with the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as ideas for continuing to address the disease today. Following the discussion, ...

Gay News

Parker makes history in Sky victory; Cubs, White Sox lose 2022-06-24
- On June 23, Chicago Sky player Candace Parker made history as the first WNBA player with three career triple-doubles in Chicago's (12-5) 82-59 win over the Los Angeles Sparks (6-10) at Arena. An audience of ...

Gay News

Photos of Chicago's Daniel Sotomayor included in new Smithsonian exhibit 2022-06-22
- The Smithsonian's first gallery dedicated to Latino history and culture has opened its doors to the public at the National Museum of American History, NBC News noted. Billed as a precursor to a national Latino museum ...

Gay News

Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center to open, reuniting historic Stonewall Inn 2022-06-21
-- From a press release - New York, NY, June 21, 2022 — Pride Live, a social advocacy and community engagement organization for the LGBTQ+ community, today announced plans to open the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center (SNMVC). Set to be the ...

Gay News

WORLD Pride events, Darren Hayes, Virgin Mary poster, LGBTQ+ Scotland 2022-06-12
- A celebratory march made its way through the Thailand capital of Bangkok—the first of its kind in almost 16 years, reported. The "Naruemit Pride 2022" event, using the Thai word for "creation," was the result ...

Gay News

Out at CHM's 'Dancing for Life' to take place June 23 2022-06-10
- The Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., is continuing its Out at CHM series with "Dancing for Life: Moving through HIV/AIDS" on Thursday, June 23, 5:30-8:30 p.m. In honor of Chicago designating 2022 as the ...

Gay News

Critically acclaimed Queer Serial History Podcast continues new series into Pride Month 2022-06-06
-- From a press release - In Queer Serial's radio drama style, NLGJA award-winning producer Devlyn Camp is bringing gay history to life with news & gay radio shows from the archives, unheard interviews between historian Will Roscoe & Supervisor Harry Britt, ...

Gay News

Vandersloot makes history in Sky win; Cubs, White Sox lose; NU softball 2022-06-04
- In WNBA action, the Chicago Sky (6-3) defeated the Atlanta Dream (6-4) 73-65 on June 3 in College Park, Georgia. The Sky are still undefeated (4-0) in Commissioner's Cup games. Courtney Vandersloot passed Allie Quigley to ...

Gay News

Probable monkeypox case confirmed in Chicago 2022-06-02
- On June 2, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced a single presumptive monkeypox case in an adult male Chicago resident with recent travel history to Europe, per ...

Gay News

Imperial Court, Task Force to add five icons to 'Wall of Honor' at the Stonewall Inn on June 23 2022-06-02
-- From a press release - NEW YORK, NY, JUNE 1, 2022—On Thursday, June 23, five LGBTQ icons will be added to the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The honor wall was inaugurated in ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Laverne Cox, PBS special, Ricky Martin, queer books/authors 2022-05-29
- Nouveau Productions and PBS announced a new collaboration for Pride Month, per a press release. The special True Colors: LGBTQ+ Our Stories, Our Songs will offer a unique look at the history of the LGBTQ+ community ...

Gay News

Chicago Bears release schedule; Yankees pound White Sox 2022-05-13
- After alternating home and road games throughout the entire 2021 season for the first time in franchise history, the Chicago Bears have a more conventional schedule in 2022, according to a press release. It features three ...


Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.