Bayard Quaker: man who walked in the Light, man of faith, hero for all times. SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2016 v10n1 p0118
Today in the United States of America, schools and government offices shut down and we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King jr. In the past I have spent the weekend going to celebrations and award ceremonies: this weekend, I celebrated by doing what I do best, reading and writing about heroes that made possible this annual celebration of civil rights victories.
Bayard Rustin was a hero for all times. A Quaker, in deed and in word. Few have ever been. Although we all try, in our own way.
I try by talking to folks in Quaker meetings, by participating in celebrations with folks in non-white majority organizations, and by being deeply respectful of humans no matter who and where they are, and by writing about efforts for peace. I try to follow Bayard Rustin, but I have neither the wit, the energy or focus. But I try.
I first came across Bayard Rustin in March 2011, when I was trying to stop the nearby Manhattan house of the American Association of University Women from being shut down. (It closed in June 2011.) I was walking towards the United Nations and saw a grave marker at the edge of a park. I later learned that the Ralph Bunche Peace Park was created on a quarter-acre piece of ground in 1985, named after Professor Ralph Bunche, an academic at Howard University who brokered a peace deal in the Middle East and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Bayard Rustin died in 1987, I have no idea if his ashes are spread there. His ashes needed to be spread everywhere.
In 2013, Bayard Rustin was awarded the US Medal of Freedom posthumously by President Obama. Scroll down to watch the video of the ceremony. That is wonderful, but even so, Bayard Rustin's huge efforts in working with Martin Luther King jr and in creating a non-violent path for civil rights demands is largely unrecognized.
In the 1990s, I often chatted in Haddonfield Monthly Meeting with Lyle Tatum. Lyle was born 5 years after Bayard Rustin, in 1918, and, like Bayard, a young man just at the time that young men were being swept off to participate in the destruction that was World War II.
These young men included my own father, who was a medical officer to Ghanaian troops in Burma, India and the Gold Coast (later named Ghana). And my Uncle Tony, who landed in Normandy on D-Day, Jun 06, 1944, but managed to avoid being shot paraplegic for another 2 months. And my father's cousin Maurice, who was a chaplain with the elite UK Commandos, and who told me "I waved a Bible, which meant, don't shoot me, shoot the next one!" as he landed unarmed on Normandy on D-Day. And my father's other cousin Robert, shot dead by a sniper in Italy on July 02, 1944.
My father's male relatives were all brave, and all compelled to join the army in England. So were Bayard and Lyle in the United States, but unlike my father's relatives, Bayard and Lyle chose to be jailed rather than do anything that helped the war effort. So strongly did they believe that if you start from a place of piece, you do not ever have to bear arms. They incorporated the Quaker Peace Testimony in their DNA.
Could the wave of destruction caused by Nazi Germany have been stopped if all young men in England, and in Germany had refused to take up arms? Absolutely.
Quakers do not have deep roots in Germany, and certainly not in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, where I spent a month in July 2015 trying to rescue my younger children's father. (I did not succeed.) The only Quaker Meeting meets twice a month in an art studio, and from accounts, is attended by a handful of friends. At the same time, I walked past 3 substantial buildings owned and operated by Tibetan Buddhists and their German friends. Germans, like everyone, have a yearning for peace, as well as war click here. Bayard Rustin understood that, and did everything he could to tip the balance over to peace. Bayard Rustin was a man of deep faith and deep love for humans.
These videos give an idea of who Bayard Rustin was, and why, nearly 30 years after his death, we need to keep listening to him.