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25 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

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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

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

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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

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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

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

You might also like these Howard Thurman quotes that helped shape a movement.

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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