cover image Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen: A Biography

Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen: A Biography

Jervis Anderson. HarperCollins Publishers, $30 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-016702-8

With access to civil rights organizer Rustin's personal papers and the cooperation of his associates, New Yorker writer Anderson (A. Philip Randolph) has written a solid if not lyrical biography of an underappreciated black intellectual. Rustin (1912-1987) was best known as the mastermind behind the historic 1963 March on Washington, but, as Anderson explains, his interests and influence were hardly limited to civil rights. A good student and musically talented, Rustin adopted an upper-class British accent during his Pennsylvania boyhood, and his Quaker faith shaped his career as an acolyte of A. Philip Randolph and the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). He tested segregation laws as an FOR organizer and was unfazed by a prison sentence for conscientious objection during WWII. After his career with FOR was derailed in 1953 by a morals charge--the charming Rustin was gay--he allied himself with Martin Luther King Jr., helping strengthen King's Gandhian precepts and tactics. After the 1963 march, however, the pragmatic Rustin found himself opposing young militants at the 1964 Democratic convention as well as both black power activists and black studies programs. While he supported organized labor and denounced anti-Semitism in his last two decades, Rustin found himself increasingly isolated from black leaders. However, as Anderson explains, Rustin's humane vision--which included crusades for African independence and against nuclear weapons--aimed ultimately to serve the black struggle. Though Anderson, who once worked for Rustin, offers no personal recollections here, he does convey the measure of a man whose generosity and coalition-building are sorely needed today. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)