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50 Bayard Rustin Quotes From the Peaceful Activist

Best remembered as one of the organizers of the March on Washington in 1941, Bayard Rustin was an activist who believed strongly in change through non-violence. Below is our collection of Bayard Rustin quotes.

Raised by his Quaker grandparents, Bayard Rustin was heavily influenced by his grandmother who participated in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. As an adult, Rustin would join forces with Martin Luther King Jr. as his valued advisor during the civil movement.

Rustin was a gay man and heavily criticized for it. Because of this, he worked mostly behind the scenes during the civil movement, though he became a public advocate in the 1980s on behalf of gay causes.

Bayard Rustin quotes on activism

1. “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” — Bayard Rustin

2. “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” — Bayard Rustin

3. “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.” — Bayard Rustin

4. “I believe in social dislocation and creative trouble.” — Bayard Rustin

5. “My activism did not spring from being black.” — Bayard Rustin

6. “The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.” — Bayard Rustin

7. “My activism did not spring from my being gay, or, for that matter, from my being black. Rather, it is rooted fundamentally in my Quaker upbringing and the values that were instilled in me by my grandparents who reared me.” — Bayard Rustin

8. “Surely, I must at all times attempt to obey the law of the state. But when the will of God and the will of the state conflict, I am compelled to follow the will of God.” — Bayard Rustin

9. “Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new ‘niggers’ are gays. It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.” — Bayard Rustin

Powerful Bayard Rustin quotes

10. “God does not require us to achieve any of the good tasks that humanity must pursue. What God requires of us is that we not stop trying.” — Bayard Rustin

11. “There is a strong moralistic strain in the civil rights movement that would remind us that power corrupts, forgetting that the absence of power also corrupts.” — Bayard Rustin

12. “Both morally and practically, segregation is to me a basic injustice. Since I believe it to be so, I must attempt to remove it.” — Bayard Rustin

13. “There are three ways in which one can deal with an injustice. (a) One can accept it without protest. (b) On can seek to avoid it. (c) One can resist the injustice non-violently. To accept it is to perpetuate it.” — Bayard Rustin

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14. “Gays are beginning to realize what blacks learned long ago: Unless you are out here fighting for yourself then nobody else will help you. I think the gay community has a moral obligation to continue the fight.” — Bayard Rustin

15. “People will never fight for your freedom if you have not given evidence that you are prepared to fight for it yourself.” — Bayard Rustin

16. “The real radical is that person who has a vision of equality and is willing to do those things that will bring reality closer to that vision.” — Bayard Rustin

17. “We demand that segregation be ended in every school district in the year 1963! We demand that we have effective civil rights legislation – no compromise, no filibuster – and that include public accommodations, decent housing, integrated education, FEPC and the right to vote.” — Bayard Rustin

18. “The fact that the people were against the war in Vietnam, saw us go into the street and win, made it possible for them to have the courage to go into the street and win, and the lesson that I would like to see from this is, that we must now find a way to deal with the problem of full employment, and as surely as we were able to bring about the Civil Rights Act, the voter rights act–the Voting Rights Act, I mean the education act, and the housing act, so is it possible for all of us now to combine our forces in a coalition, including Catholic, Protestant, Jew and labor and blacks and Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans and all other minorities, to bring about the one thing that will bring peace internally to the United States.” — Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin quotes on peace

19. “Conscription for war is inconsistent with freedom of conscience, which is not merely the right to believe but to act on the degree of truth that one receives, to follow a vocation which is God-inspired and God-directed.” — Bayard Rustin

20. “I am an opponent of war and of war preparations and an opponent of universal military training and conscription; but entirely apart from that issue, I hold that segregation in any part of the body politic is an act of slavery and an act of war.” — Bayard Rustin

21. “I am a Quaker. And as everyone knows, Quakers, for 300 years, have, on conscientious ground, been against participating in war. I was sentenced to three years in federal prison because I could not religiously and conscientiously accept killing my fellow man.” — Bayard Rustin
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22. “The Journey of Reconciliation was organized not only to devise techniques for eliminating Jim Crow in travel but also as a training ground for similar peaceful projects against discrimination in such major areas as employment and in the armed services.” — Bayard Rustin

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23. “If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence.” — Bayard Rustin

24. “It wasn’t the Harry Belafontes and the greats from Hollywood that made the march. What made the march was that black people voted that day with their feet.” — Bayard Rustin

25. “War is wrong.” — Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin quotes on unity

26. “We are all one – and if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” — Bayard Rustin

27. “To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.” — Bayard Rustin

28. “The racial injustice that was present in this country during my youth was a challenge to my belief in the oneness of the human family.” — Bayard Rustin

29. “Bigotrys birthplace is the sinister back room of the mind where plots and schemes are hatched for the persecution and oppression of other human beings.” — Bayard Rustin

30. “The organizers and perpetuators of segregation are as much the enemy of America as any foreign invader.” — Bayard Rustin

31. “Martin Luther King, with whom I worked very closely, became very distressed when a number of the ministers working for him wanted him to dismiss me from his staff because of my homosexuality.” — Bayard Rustin

32. “Since Israel is a democratic state surrounded by essentially undemocratic states which have sworn her destruction, those interested in democracy everywhere must support Israel’s existence.” — Bayard Rustin

33. “If we desire a society in which men are brothers, then we must act towards one another with brotherhood. If we can build such a society, then we would have achieved the ultimate goal of human freedom.” — Bayard Rustin

34. “If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society.” — Bayard Rustin

35. “If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.” — Bayard Rustin

36. “The principal factors which influenced my life are 1) nonviolent tactics; 2) constitutional means; 3) democratic procedures; 4) respect for human personality; 5) a belief that all people are one.” — Bayard Rustin

37. “Every indifference to prejudice is suicide because, if I don’t fight all bigotry, bigotry itself will be strengthened and, sooner or later, it will return on me.” — Bayard Rustin

38. “If we want to do away with the injustice to gays it will not be done because we get rid of the injustice to gays. It will be done because we are forwarding the effort for the elimination of injustice to all. And we will win the rights for gays, or blacks, or Hispanics, or women within the context of whether we are fighting for all.” — Bayard Rustin

39. “It occurred to me shortly after that that it was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality because if I didn’t I was a part of the prejudice. I was aiding and abetting the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.” — Bayard Rustin

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More Inspiring Bayard Rustin quotes

40. “The proof that one truly believes is in action.” — Bayard Rustin

41. “You have to join every other movement for the freedom of people.” — Bayard Rustin

42. “The moral man is he who is opposed to injustice per se, opposed to injustice wherever he finds it; the moral man looks for injustice first of all in himself.” — Bayard Rustin

43. “Loving your enemy is manifest in putting your arms not around the man but around the social situation, to take power from those who misuse it at which point they can become human too.” — Bayard Rustin

44. “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But when you’re right, you’re wrong anyhow.” — Bayard Rustin

45. “I think the movement contributed to this nation a sense of universal freedom.” — Bayard Rustin

46. “The only way to reduce ugliness in the world is to reduce it in yourself.” — Bayard Rustin

47. “The division between race and race, class and class, will not be dissolved by massive infusions of brotherly sentiment. The division is not the result of bad sentiment, and therefore will not be healed by rhetoric. Rather the division and the bad sentiments are both reflections of vast and growing inequalities in our socioeconomic system–inequalities of wealth, of status, of education, of access to political power.” — Bayard Rustin

48. “The issue of race, however, has been with us since our earliest beginnings as a nation. I believe it is even deeper and sharper than the other points of contention. It has bred fears, myths, and violence over centuries. It is the source of dark and dangerous irrationality, a current of social pathology running through our history and dimming our brighter achievements.” — Bayard Rustin

49. “The resort to stereotype is the first refuge and chief strategy of the bigot.” — Bayard Rustin

50. “By focusing upon private attitudes alone, white Americans may come to rely on token individual gestures as a way of absolving themselves personally of racism, while ignoring the work that needs to be done within public institutions to eradicate social and economic problems and redistribute wealth and opportunity.” — Bayard Rustin

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What did you learn from these Bayard Rustin quotes?

Bayard Rustin was not a man without adversity. Living as a gay man of color in a time when it was dangerous to be born as one, let alone both, Rustin was continuously challenged by the bigots of his time.

He was consistently threatened, beaten, imprisoned, and fired from leadership positions because of who he was.

Yet, this did not stop him. Rustin persevered through the racism and homophobia that his peers threw at him and he became one of the most influential activists advocating for peace and human rights in the 20th century.

Did you enjoy these Bayard Rustin quotes and sayings? Which quote was your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below.

Sckylar Gibby-Brown
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