On June 9, 2022, the village of Nyack, New York dedicated Bayard Rustin Way — a street in the suburban town’s bustling center — in a special ceremony. Organized by the Phyllis B. Frank Pride Center of Rockland County and the Nyack NAACP chapter, the event featured speakers and performers who honored Rustin’s contributions as a civil rights activist, pacifist, and openly gay man (in the pre-Stonewall era) who dedicated much of his later years to LGBTQ rights and equality.
Bill Batson, a social justice activist, educator, and artist, emceed the event. At the start of the program, Batson read a statement from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, honoring the community’s decision and recognizing Rustin’s immense legacy and deep connection to FOR. The statement follows:
The Fellowship of Reconciliation extends our gratitude and blessings to the Nyack community for the naming of Bayard Rustin Way in the village. We join everyone in celebrating this landmark tribute to one of our nation’s foremost teachers and trainers of nonviolence as a philosophy, methodology, and active practice.
As many in this community know, FOR-USA’s national headquarters were located in Upper Nyack for more than 60 years. From 1957 to 2018, our Fellowship worked to advance peace, justice, and human rights throughout this country and the world from our home at 521 North Broadway. We continue to pursue that mission each day, still based here in Rockland County, now in Stony Point.
Bayard Rustin worked on FOR-USA’s national staff for more than a decade, from 1942 to 1953, during which time he courageously and creatively led efforts to resist war-making and to advance civil rights and racial justice.
During that tenure, Bayard spent two years in federal prison for his pacifist convictions as a conscientious objector to military conscription during World War 2. Just one year after being released from prison, in 1947, Rustin co-organized and co-led a project known as the “First Freedom Ride” — the Journey of Reconciliation, which tested desegregation laws on interstate buses by traveling through four southern states. In North Carolina, Rustin and three others were arrested and sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang for their efforts. Almost exactly 75 years after their convictions, next week on June 17, 2022, that sentence will be vacated and dismissed at the site of the Hillsborough NC courthouse where they were unjustly sentenced during the Jim Crow era.
Bayard was forced by FOR’s leadership to resign his staff role in 1953, due in part to his role as a gay man in an organization that was then a Christian-centric movement. It was a grave mistake by the organization and a great loss to our Fellowship. Nevertheless, Rustin continued to work closely with FOR staff during the following decades — especially his longtime mentor Rev. A.J. Muste.
In 2015, in consultation with Rustin’s life partner Walter Naegle, FOR-USA issued a posthumous formal apology to Rustin for the Fellowship’s unjust action six decades earlier. The statement [PDF] included these words:
“In the spirit of reconciliation, our hope and intention with this apology is to – where possible – rectify a past wrong; to acknowledge the harm done to Bayard by the lack of adherence to our organizational precepts of love, consciousness, and compassion. This act of repentance is intrinsically linked to an organizational commitment to carry on, with renewed vigor, Rustin’s work and bold vision of a reconciled world at peace.”
As a movement that for more than a century has advocated for the freedom and rights of all people, including Black people in this country, and for the past several decades has celebrated and worked to advance queer liberation and rights, we are proud today to lift up Bayard’s holistic legacy as a foremost advocate of freedom, revolutionary nonviolence, and militant civil disobedience. Today, likewise, we join everyone in beautiful Nyack to honor and celebrate the naming of Bayard Rustin Way as a means of building the Beloved Community in this time and setting.