“Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin” edited by Devon W. Carbado and Don Weise— Openly Gay

time on two crosses

Carbado, Devon W. and Don Weise (editors). “Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin”, with a foreword by Barack Obama, Cleis Press, 2015.

Openly Gay

Amos Lassen

Martin Luther King, Jr. learned the strategies of nonviolence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 and launched thereby launching the civil rights movement. He learned them from Bayard Rustin, one of the founding fathers of modern black protest who later reached international notoriety in 1963 as the openly gay organizer of the March on Washington. Rustin’s leadership began long before that historic march and he was at the vanguard of social protest. However, the fact that he was openly gay and embraced his gay identity was a point of contention within the movement and involved King, himself.

“Time on Two Crosses” gives us a look at many defining political moments of our time. “From Gandhi’s impact on African Americans, white supremacists in Congress, and the assassination of Malcolm X to Rustin’s never-before-published essays on Louis Farrakhan, affirmative action, and the call for gay rights, Time on Two Crosses chronicles five decades of Rustin’s commitment to justice and equality”.

The book spans fifty years of protest. This new edition includes new material and is a treasure for anyone who cares about the rights of the individual. Rustin was ahead of his time in many of his beliefs. The book is a collection of his writings and takes us into not just issues of race, class and discrimination but what it should mean for all of us to look for areas for us to come together. Rustin was able to almost fearlessly announce his beliefs in such a way that it is impossible to deny why he’s important to know. Reading this encourages us all to be the best of who we were created to be.

Two scholars, Devon Carbado and Don Weise, who have done much to open space for black gay studies continue this by compiling some of Bayard Rustin’s most famous speeches. The book starts with a well-done biography of the leader. We then move on to speeches on a range of issues which show how thoroughly ahead of his time this Rustin was.

Because of homophobia and domination by the Far, Rustin was often silenced and marginalized. However, he was a feisty figure but he was not going to go at it with the powers that were. who also wasn’t afraid to butt heads with top dogs. Rustin was a highly opinionated man and he see him shatters myths that were erroneously held for generations.

He stood at the forefront of issue that were far beyond just his race and sexuality. He spoke about feminism, international affairs, pacifism, labor rights, etc. Rustin was personally meek, but his circumstances weren’t. He was a gay black man who was marginalized by the Civil Rights movement he helped found but he did not let that embitter him. He never failed to come down on the proper side of a moral or ethical question, no matter whom it may offend or support. Bayard Rustin felt that his homosexuality, of which he was quite open, put him in a unique position. Placed in a minority at the bottom of every other minority, Rustin was engaged in the doing away with prejudice while suffering it himself. His gentle words place no blame, instead he understands.

This book properly places Rustin within his times and shares the story of this complex and important historical figure. His writings on homosexuality are as important and as insightful as his writings on civil rights. Besides being a great strategic leader, he was really a great philosopher who lived his philosophy. Much of what he said about violence, politics and nonviolent protest are still totally relevant today.

Rustin was a movement strategist par excellence and he knew how to share that strategy. If I had to say in just a few words what his greatest legacy was I would say, “educate and agitate and never give up!”

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