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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007 01:01 am

Out of the shadows

Bayard Rustin biographer speaks on civil-rights leader, gay rights

Untitled Document More than 20 years before Muhammad Ali was famously stripped of his boxing titles and convicted of draft evasion, Bayard Rustin served 27 months in prison for refusing to fight during World War II. Unlike Ali, whose application for conscientious objector status was denied, Rustin, a Quaker, had the option of serving in the Civilian Public Service; Rustin instead chose jail.
Later he would advise the organizers of the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott; he also mentored Dr. Martin Luther King on the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the principles of nonviolent resistance and even edited many of King’s speeches. Rustin was also the primary organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. But you won’t read much about Rustin’s work for civil rights, because, in addition to being an African-American and a Marxist, he was also homosexual. John D’Emilio, a Rustin biographer and professor of history and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will present a lecture on Rustin’s obscure career at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, in the University of Illinois at Springfield Public Affairs Center. D’Emilio, the author of Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, calls his subject a man without a home in history.
“If Rustin has been lost in the shadows of history, it is at least in part because he was a gay man in an era when the stigma attached to this was unrelieved,” D’Emilio writes in the book’s introduction. At 7 p.m. the next day, Oct. 17, the author will speak in UIS’s Brookens Auditorium on the state of gay rights and politics in the U.S. with a lecture, “Will the Courts Set Us Free? Reflections on the Same-Sex-Marriage Fight.”
Both events are free and open to the public.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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