Viewer Question: I just watched this excellent and fascinating program, but missed the start. Where was Rustin born, and where did his accent come from?
Kates and Singer: He was born in 1912 in West Chester, PA. There are various theories about his accent; some scholars contend that one of Rustin’s relatives had a West Indian accent and that this influenced Rustin’s own style of speech. But most likely the accent came from his English and elocution teacher in elementary school, Ms. Maria Brock. Rustin attended the Gay Street School, an all-Black elementary school noted for its legendary teaching staff.
Viewer Question: The documentary mentioned that after Rustin’s visit to India the FBI considered sending a “prominent Negro” to India that would give a less critical view of the civil rights situation in America. Was this done and if so, who was it?
Kates and Singer: This does not seem to have been done, although various African Americans did visit India in this period, including James Farmer, Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman. Each of these individuals played an important role in bringing Gandhi’s ideas and tactics to the civil rights struggle in the U.S.
Viewer Question: Could I have the quotation at the end of the film about the “barometer of civil rights” having been race and now being about gays and lesbians? Thank you!
Kates and Singer: Rustin was being interviewed at a gay rights rally soon before he died in 1987 and said:
“Twenty-five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian.
“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.”
Viewer Question: Thank you for this documentary. I knew a little about Mr. Rustin, but now I feel that I have more insight into him and his contribution to the social, political, and racial evolution of the United States. How did Mr. Rustin support himself all those years of activism? The pay for his chosen profession isn’t very good.
Kates and Singer: He received a small salary from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and then from the War Resisters League, which hired him after he was forced to resign from the FOR. He did odd jobs in the interim between these positions, including repairing harpsichords. Dr. King also paid him, nominally, for his SCLC work. After 1965, he had a “real” job as President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. He also made money from time to time selling artwork from his collection; he had a great eye and often bought pieces for much less than they were worth.
Viewer Question: It was unclear why Bayard wanted his psychiatric counseling brought into the public awareness. How did you decide to include this in the film? Thank you for an excellent remembrance and testimonial to his life’s work. We are, indeed, all one.
Kates and Singer: Toward the end of his life, Rustin introduced Dr. Robert Ascher, his former psychiatrist, to Jervis Anderson, who was writing the first Rustin biography. He undoubtedly wanted to set the record straight about what happened, and wanted to be clear with Dr. Ascher (who has himself since passed away) that he would like to waive the normal rules of confidentiality in the interest of allowing traditionally off-limits material to be shared with biographers.
Viewer Question: As a participant in the March on Washington as a 14-year old, and later a civil rights activist in Georgia while a student at Emory University, I have long known Bayard Rustin’s name. Congratulations to you and PBS for illuminating an important American in what I call “the second layer of heroes.” The extensive documentary footage of August 28, 1963 was especially interesting. What were your sources?
Kates and Singer: We have worked with over 200 print, photo and footage archives from around the world-including collections in Africa, India, France, England and the U.S. Much of the March on Washington footage comes from the network news archives in New York, and from a film called “The March,” which was shot by the U.S. Information Agency and is now held at the National Archives. In addition to these sources, we did extensive work with the Rustin papers, which are available on microfilm, and the papers of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the War Resisters League, both of which are in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Viewer Question: I sometimes think the whole Civil Rights movement has been ignored in the classrooms in favor of a more comfortable focus on Dr. King’s wonderful speech. Did Rustin agree that Dr. King’s speech would define the 1963 March? How would he react to the ignorance of today’s youth about the details of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s?
Kates and Singer: It is not entirely clear what Rustin would have said about Dr. King’s speech at the time; later on, looking back at the March, he certainly understood that the “I Have a Dream” speech defined the day and, in one interview, Rustin spoke of the speech’s majestic power. Dr. King was the last speaker that day, because no one else wanted to follow him-this undoubtedly was clear to Rustin, since he was organizing the program. Though it might not be appropriate for us to speak for him today, we imagine that he would be sad about ignorance on many fronts today, but he would not let it discourage him from finding creative ways to counter it.
Viewer Question: At the end of his life Rustin became an apologist and spokesperson for conservatives. I recall that he declared the first round of elections in Zimbabwe to be “free and fair” when no one in the civil rights community thought so. He was always quoted by conservatives and never by liberals. You didn’t cover this very much. Why not?
Kates and Singer: Rustin himself did not consider himself a neoconservative-but it is true that he became an outspoken anti-communist and that many of his allies from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s felt that he had shifted away from them during the 1970s and 1980s. We tried to suggest this complexity-and to document his shift from “outsider” to “insider”-in the portion of the film that covers the Vietnam War; in that section, Eleanor Holmes Norton remembers that Rustin’s position on the war was “disillusioning” to her, while Dave McReynolds recalls that members of the pacifist movement were asking, “What happened to Rustin?” The Zimbabwe story in isolation probably would not have been enough to do justice to the complex, nuanced issues involved in his work during the 80s; and we simply did not have the running time, or the appropriate footage, to tell a more detailed story about his shift toward the right. We did, however, try to convey the breadth of his work during this period with the montage of stills toward the end of the film, which appears as Walter Naegle describes Rustin’s international travels on behalf of human-rights causes.
Viewer Question: Is the film or will the film be available on DVD?
Kates and Singer: Not at the moment, but we are hoping that it will be in the future. Currently, schools, libraries and community groups can obtain the program on VHS from California Newsreel (www.newsreel.org; 1.877.811.7495). The companion CD, “Bayard Rustin: The Singer,” is also available through California Newsreel.