Rustin (2023) is a film depicting the life of Bayard Rustin, the political activist.  It focuses on his organization of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the high points of the Civil Rights movement.  Colman Domingo plays Rustin, with a cast that includes Chris Rock, Glynn Turman,  CCH Pounder, Jeffrey Wright, and Audra McDonald.  Julian Breece wrote the story, and Breece and Dustin Lance Black wrote the screenplay.  The song “Road to Freedom” was composed by Lenny Kravitz for the film.  George C. Wolfe directed, and Barack and Michelle Obama produced.

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a life-long activist.  Inspired by Gandhi, he was the person responsible for bringing non-violence into the Civil Rights movement.  For the rest of his life, Rustin continued to struggle for the oppressed on every conceivable issue, especially advocating for economic justice.  An openly gay man, he never concealed his sexual orientation.

Rustin was born a Pennsylvania Friend and raised by his Quaker grandmother.  His first experience with politics came through the American Friends Service Committee programs he attended as a teen.  After he moved to New York City, he joined Fifteenth Street Meeting.  He was a co-founder of the Mary McDowell Friends School and a board member for the New York office of the American Friends Service Committee.

Rustin stated, “My activism did not spring from being black.  Rather, it is rooted fundamentally in my Quaker upbringing and the values instilled in me by the grandparents who reared me”.  Walter Naegle, Rustin’s partner, noted: “When he had to really consider a question or a problem, he would go into a long period of silence and just kind of sit quietly and mull over the issue before he would speak about it.  And I think that was pretty much true throughout his life.”

I was a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting once.  By the time I got there, Bayard had passed away.  Older Friends still remembered him fondly, though.  One of them, smiling, recalled, “He always felt Quakers should be doing more”.

Rustin is a remarkable and moving film.  Colman Domingo offers a powerful portrayal.  Don’t miss this film.  It’s streaming now on Netflix.

                                                                                                Gary Sandman

February 2024

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