In of Afro-American Unity Malcolm X proclaimed that “instead

In 1964, at the founding rally for the Organization of
Afro-American Unity Malcolm X proclaimed that “instead of waiting for the white
man to come and straighten out our neighborhood, we’ll straighten it out
ourselves. This is where you make a mistake. An outsider can’t clean up your
house as well as you can. An outsider can’t look after your needs as well as
you can. And an outsider can’t understand your problems as well as you can. Yet
you’re looking for an outsider to do it. We will do it or it will never get
done.” Before his transformative journey to Mecca, X was a strong advocate for
racial separatism & Black nationalism, believing that control of politics
and economy within the Black community would be more beneficial. Eventually he
changed his ideologies to a more inclusive approach towards uplifting Blacks
around the world. While Malcolm’s transformation is often highlighted &
compared to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent methods, Bayard Rustin is
a gentleman who preceded both King & X’s non-violent, racial integration
philosophies. While the African American civil rights movement was happening in
America, African countries were fighting against colonial powers to gain their
independence. Rustin’s racial integration philosophies were also influential to
many African nationalists such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, the leader of the Nigerian
nationalist movement. Rustin’s black internationalist philosophies drew from a
range of pan-African, African-American, and pacifist traditions that has shaped
how leaders and institutions understand civil rights.

In 2013, Bayard Rustin was posthumously awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. This award speaks to
the life Rustin lived, that was dedicated to the civil rights journey and
upliftment of minorities on a global platform. Rustin is known as the man
behind the infamous 1963 March on Washington, a job he seemed to have prepared
for all of his life. Born in 1912, the youngest of eight children, Rustin was
raised by his grandparents in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Although they
attended his grandfather’s African Methodist Episcopal church, Rustin was
strongly influenced by the Quaker faith of his grandmother, who was an early
member of the NAACP. His introduction to NAACP leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois,
who would stay at their homes during speaking tours, may have had an influence
on his strong social conscience at a young age. In high school, he was arrested
for the first of many times when he refused to sit in the local movie theater’s
segregated balcony, known as “Nigger Haven” (Dreier). Rustin attended two historically-black
colleges, Wilberforce University and Cheyney State, before moving to New York
City in 1937. He enrolled briefly at the City College of New York, where he got
involved with the campus Young Communist League. He was attracted by their
antiracist efforts, including their fight against segregation in the military,
but he broke with the Communist Party after a few years.

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Eventually, he connected with A. Philip Randolph, the
mentor who shaped his philosophy and employed him as an organizer. Randolph was
a socialist who founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first
African-American labor union, and was known as the nation’s most militant civil
rights leader. Randolph hired Rustin in 1941 to lead the youth wing of the
March on Washington, designed to push President Franklin Roosevelt to open up
defense jobs to black workers as the United States geared up for World War II.
After Roosevelt agreed to issue an executive order forbidding racial
discrimination in defense industries, Randolph upheld his word and called off
the protest. Though this upset Rustin, his efforts towards the march showed his
passion & will to fight the racial injustices embedded into society. Rustin
was introduced to the teachings of Gandhi by another mentor, A. J. Muste, who Time
magazine referred to as the “No. 1 U.S. pacifist.” Rustin’s commitment to
Gandhi’s principles, along with his Quaker beliefs, shaped his activism for the
rest of his life. Under Muste’s guidance, Rustin began a series of organizing
jobs with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian pacifist group, the
American Friends Service Committee, and the War Resisters League. These were
small, mostly white organizations that provided Rustin with a network of
activists around the country. Rustin went around the country teaching about nonviolence
& civil disobedience on campuses, churches, and at fellow pacifist
meetings. Viewing nonviolent resistance as a “way of life”, his inspirational
speeches often recruited the next generation of civil-rights and antiwar
activists.

Because of his religious beliefs as a Quaker, Rustin was
allowed to do alternative service instead of military service during World War
II. However, because he objected to the war in general and the segregation of
the armed forces, he refused to serve even in the Civilian Public Service. “War
is wrong,” he wrote to his draft board in 1943. So, in 1944 Rustin was
convicted of violating the Selective Service Act and served two years in
federal prisons in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. While in prison, he was often isolated
because of his anti-segregation protests within prisons and the notion that he
would influence others with his radical beliefs. After leaving prison, Rustin
rejoined the Fellowship of Reconciliation and led the group’s 1947 interracial
Journey of Reconciliation, engaging in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in
the South. He and others were arrested in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These
demonstrations served as a predecessor to the Freedom Rides of the early 1960s.
Rustin’s leadership in the Journey of Reconciliation was influential to the
founders of Congress of Racial Equality, as they refer to Rustin as the Uncle
of CORE. However, the Journey of Reconciliation was not without controversy, especially
among notable civil-rights groups. Thurgood Marshall, who led the NAACP’s legal
division, warned that the “disobedience movement on the part of Negroes and
their white allies, if employed in the South, would result in wholesale
slaughter with no good achieved.” Through time, the Journey of Reconciliation
controversary proved to be unnecessary as it simply was a different method to
protest, but it prepared Rustin for the controversary to come about his
personal life.

During this time period, homosexuality was seen as a
moral wrong and was classified as a crime in every state. In 1953, he was
arrested for public indecency when found having sex with a man in California. Although
Rustin was open with his friends about his homosexuality, this was the first
time it had become public. Muste fired him for jeopardizing the Fellowship of
Reconciliation’s already controversial reputation. However, Randolph got Rustin
a similar job with the War Resisters League, a pacifist group founded in 1923, in
which Rustin worked for the next twelve years, fulfilling a behind-the-scenes
capacity in the civil rights movement. At Randolph’s request, he went to
Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 to help local leaders organize a large-scale bus
boycott. There Rustin began advising Martin Luther King Jr., who had no
organizing experience, on the philosophy and tactics of civil disobedience. Rustin
was “the perfect mentor for King at this stage in the young minister’s career,”
observed John D’Emilio, author of Lost
Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin. Over “the ensuing months and
years,” D’Emilio wrote, “Rustin left a profound mark on the evolution of King’s
role as national leader.” Much of Rustin’s advice would be given from a
distance, in phone calls, memos and drafts of articles and book chapters he
wrote for King. He had to cut short his first visit to Montgomery because, as a
gay man and a former Communist, he was a political liability. At the end of
1956, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery’s segregated bus system was
unlawful. The victory could have remained a local triumph, but Rustin, along
with Ella Baker and Stanley Levinson, had an idea for building a “mass movement
across the South” with “disciplined groups prepared to act as ‘nonviolent shock
troops,'” as Rustin put it. This was the genesis of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, which would catapult King to the national stage. Baker
was hired to build the organization, and Rustin became King’s strategist,
ghostwriter, and link to northern liberals and unions.

To many Americans, the civil rights movement was a
confusing mosaic of organizations — NAACP, SNCC, CORE, the Urban League, SCLC —
all competing for attention, each with a different approach. In 1963, Randolph,
as the elder of the movement, pulled together the leaders of the major civil
rights, labor, and liberal religious organizations and laid out his plan for a March
on Washington. Randolph envisioned a march that would push for federal
legislation, particularly for the Civil Rights Act. The event would be called
the March for Jobs and Freedom, emphasizing both jobs as well as civil rights, with
Rustin running the March. The leaders Randolph gathered endorsed the plan. However,
NAACP president Roy Wilkins objected to putting Rustin in charge of the march,
because of his radicalism and his homosexuality. Randolph outmaneuvered Wilkins
by announcing that he would be its director and choose his own deputy: Rustin,
of course. Three weeks before the August 28 march, Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South
Carolina segregationist, publicly attacked Rustin on the floor of the Senate by
reading reports of his California arrest for homosexual behavior a decade
earlier, documents he got from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Randolph bravely
defended Rustin’s integrity and his role in the march, but, as biographer John
D’Emilio noted, “Rustin had become perhaps the most visible homosexual in
America.” Despite this controversary, the march was a huge success. It was not
only the highlight of Rustin’s career but perhaps the high point of the
movement itself. More than 250,000 people attended. King delivered his “I Have
a Dream” speech, one of the great orations in American history. Ten months
later, in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil
Rights Act. Rustin continued his organizing work within the civil rights, peace
and labor movements. He was still in demand as a public speaker, and he was
still valued for his strategic brilliance. However, he never again had the same
influence he did when organizing the Washington march. King, whose opponents
were planting stories that he was under the influence of Communists, continued
to rely on Rustin’s advice. Nevertheless, it was always at a safe distance,
fearful the movement would be tarnished by Rustin’s liabilities.

After Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965,
Rustin wrote a controversial article, “From Protest to Politics,” in the then-liberal
magazine Commentary. In that piece he
argued that the coalition that had come together for the March on Washington
needed to place less emphasis on protest and focus on electing liberal
Democrats who could enact a progressive policy agenda centered on employment,
housing, and civil rights. Rustin drafted a “Freedom Budget,” released in 1967,
that advocated “redistribution of wealth.” He believed that the African-American
community needed to change its political strategy, building and strengthening a
political alliance with predominately white unions and other organizations to
pursue a common economic agenda. His ideas influenced King, who
increasingly began to talk about the importance of jobs, unions, and wealth
redistribution. Rustin’s ideas, however, were controversial among the young
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) radicals. They did not trust
the unions or the Democratic Party. The group had become a major advocate of “Black
power,” an idea Rustin opposed because it undermined his commitment to
coalition politics and racial integration. He felt that the African-American
community was threatened by the appeal of identity politics. He thought the
“Black power” stance was a fantasy of middle-class black people that repeated
the political and moral errors of previous black nationalists, while alienating
the white allies needed by the African-American community.

Rustin’s evolution of beliefs throughout his life is
summarized in his quote he gave before his death, “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. It demanded my involvement in the struggle to
achieve interracial democracy, but it is very likely that I would have been
involved had I been a white person with the same philosophy. Needless to say, I
worked side-by-side with many white people who held these same values, some of
whom gave as much, if not more, to the struggle than myself.” Rustin wasn’t
just an advocate for African Americans but for the human race. In the late
1940s and early 1950s, while still working for the Fellowship of
Reconciliation, Rustin visited India, Africa and Europe, where he made contact
with activists in various independence and peace movements. He viewed the struggle
for civil rights in the United States as part of a worldwide movement against
war and colonialism. Rustin’s beliefs were impactful in the worldwide struggle
for civil rights, especially in the African nationalist movements that was
taking place overseas.

In 1963, Nigeria gained its independence from Britain. Nnamdi
Azikiwe was the driving force behind Nigeria’s independence movement, serving
as the first president of independent Nigeria. His philosophies and ideas
throughout the nationalist movement empowered many and left a legacy of
cooperation throughout history. In 1904, Azikiwe was born of Ibo parents in
Zungeru, Northern Nigeria, where his father worked as a clerk in the Nigerian
Regiment. His parents gave him the name Benjamin, but he later changed it to
Nnamdi. He attended school in Onitsha, Lagos, and Calabar. In 1921, when he
discontinued his secondary school education, he was fluent in the languages of
the three major ethnic groups of Nigeria, the Hausas, the Ibos, and the Yorubas,
a major asset for the future Nigerian nationalist. In 1925 Azikiwe went to the
United States to study. He attended Storer College and then Howard and Lincoln
universities. He received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from
Lincoln in 1931 and advanced degrees from Lincoln in 1932 and the University of
Pennsylvania in 1933. As a black impoverished student, Azikiwe worked at a wide
range of low-paying jobs and was often a victim of racial discrimination. His
American experience was certainly a source of his pan-African patriotism. Between
1932 and 1934 Azikiwe taught political science at Lincoln University. At this
time he began writing seriously, and his productions reflected his pan-African
inclination. He devised a “Syllabus for African History” and wrote a
book, Liberia in World Politics (1934), in defense of the
black republic. In 1937 he published Renascent African, the most
important single expression of his pan-African ideology. This book was a
reflection and call to action for youth to demand and bring about change within
their home countries. In 1934 Azikiwe returned to Nigeria and accepted an offer
to edit the African Morning Post, a new daily newspaper in
Accra, Ghana, which he quickly made into an important organ of nationalist
propaganda. In 1937 he returned to Lagos and founded the West African
Pilot, which became “a fire-eating and aggressive nationalist paper of
the highest order.” In the next decade Azikiwe controlled six daily
newspapers in Nigeria: two in Lagos and four strategically placed in the urban
centers of Ibadan, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, and Kano. These played a crucial
role in stimulating Nigerian nationalism.

Azikiwe eventually became directly involved in political
movements. In 1937 he joined the Nigerian Youth Movement, leaving it for the
Nigerian National Democratic party in 1941. In 1944, on Azikiwe’s initiative,
the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was founded to
“weld the heterogeneous masses of Nigeria into one solid block.” Founded
alongside Herbert Macaulay, the NCNC embraced different sets of groups from the
religious, to tribal and to trade groups. This embracement was vital to Azikiwe
because he felt that collective involvement of everyone, the NCNC’s goals could
be achieved. Those goals included: the extension of democratic principles and
advancement of the interest of the people of Nigeria and Cameroons
under British mandate; the impartings of political education to the
people of Nigeria in order to prepare them for self-government; and the
provision of medium of expression for members of NCNC through which they would
endeavor to secure for Nigeria and the Cameroons, political freedom, social
equality, religious toleration and economic activity. Azikiwe was elected the
council’s general secretary and in 1946 its president. In this period his major
political writings, apart from his newspaper articles, were Political
Blue Print of Nigeria and Economic Reconstruction in Nigeria.
Between 1947 and 1960 Azikiwe, as leader of the NCNC, held a number of elected
public offices. He was a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council (1947-
1951), member of the Western House of Assembly (1952-1953), premier of the
Eastern Region (1954-1959), and president of the Nigerian Senate (1959-1960).
During these years he had continued to play the single most vigorous role in
Nigeria’s march toward independence. While premier, he greatly expanded
educational facilities in the Eastern Region and laid the foundation of the
University of Nigeria at Nsukka, formally opened in September 1960.

On Oct. 1, 1960, Nigeria became independent, and Azikiwe
was appointed governor general with the prime ministership going to Sir Alhaji
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, deputy governor general of the Northern People
Congress, the largest single party of the federation. On Oct. 1, 1963, Nigeria
became a republic, and Azikiwe was named its first president, a position he
held until he was deposed by the military coup of Jan. 15, 1966. In the
Nigerian-Biafran civil war, May 1967-January 1970, Azikiwe at first reluctantly
supported Biafra, but in August 1969 came out against Biafran secession and in
favor of a united Nigeria. From 1978-1983 Azikiwe led the Nigeria People’s
Party (NPP); he was the NPP’s candidate in the presidential elections of 1979
and 1983. He retired from politics in 1986.

Azikiwe died in eastern Nigeria on May 11, 1996,
following a long illness. Marking his death, the New York Times commented
that Azikiwe “towered over the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation,
attaining the rare status of a truly national hero who came to be admired
across the regional and ethnic lines dividing his country.” He left a
legacy to Nigeria and the world as the Great
Zik of Africa.

Rustin & Azikiwe’s philosophies both preceded their
times. They proved influential in their respective and collective fights
against global injustices. In my research, astonishing similarities were
discovered. The most significant similarity was a quote by each of them
“Originality is the essence of true scholarship. Creativity is the soul of the
true scholar” (Azikiwe). “I believe in social dislocation and creative
trouble.” (Rustin) These two quotes simply highlight their understanding of how
collectiveness can allow for social progress, empowering the next generation to
challenge the injustices faced through creative
methods.

 

 

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