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Pacifism, Rustin, and CORE. Bayard Rustin (1912-87). Born in (segregated) West Chester, PA, raised by NAACP-active grandmother Dismissed from Wilberforce (over compulsory ROTC) and Cheyney State Teachers College (for morals misconduct)

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bayard rustin 1912 87
Bayard Rustin (1912-87)
  • Born in (segregated) West Chester, PA, raised by NAACP-active grandmother
  • Dismissed from Wilberforce (over compulsory ROTC) and Cheyney State Teachers College (for morals misconduct)
  • Became a Quaker, moved to Harlem, enrolled at CUNY, joined but left Young Communist League
  • Appointed Fellowship of Reconciliation Youth Secretary (working with A.J. Muste)
  • Organized for March on Washington Movement with A. Philip Randolph
congress of racial equality core
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
  • Est. 1942 by FOR members, to promote civil rights (“active pacifism”)
  • Advocated Gandhian ideas, e.g., nonviolent direct action, civil disobedience, and moral power
  • Many participants (incl. Rustin) refused military service during WWII and imprisoned
  • After war organized sit-ins, picketing, and “Journey of Reconciliation”
m k gandhi on satyagraha
M.K. Gandhi on Satyagraha

Its root meaning is holding on to truth, hence Truth-force. I have also called it Love-Force or Soul-force. In the application of satyagraha I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one’s self. But on the political field the struggle on behalf of the people mostly consists in opposing error in the shape of unjust laws. When you have failed to bring the error home to the lawgiver by way of petitions and the like, the only remedy open to you, if you do not wish to submit to error, is to compel him by physical force to yield to you or by suffering in your own person by inviting the penalty for the breach of the law. Hence satyagraha largely appears to the public as Civil Disobedience or Civil Resistance.

bayard rustin on core 1985
Bayard Rustin on CORE (1985)

In August of 1945 I left Lewisburg Penitentiary, where I had been in jail as a conscientious objector. I had gone in to prison in 1942 for three years' term. Given good time, I was able to come out in August of 1945, at which time I went back to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, with which I had been associated since 1941. At this time I also was beginning to give a great deal of my time as director of the Civil Rights Department of the Fellowship of Reconciliation — FOR — to CORE. Now, CORE had been founded within the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and great numbers of blacks had cooperated with the CORE direct action. But when war came, the many blacks who were working in CORE and who were not pacifists did not want CORE to remain within the FOR, because the FOR was a pacifist organization and they did not want to be associated with a pacifist organization in war time. So there was a decision made that CORE should become independent. Even though CORE was independent of the FOR, the FOR paid my salary to do a great deal of the work organizing CORE, and a good bit of the years from 1945 to 1955 were spent as field director of CORE — which meant that I traveled all over the country creating all kinds of demonstrations, sit-ins in restaurants, theaters, hotels, barber shops, and the like.

journey of reconciliation report 1947
“Journey of Reconciliation” Report, 1947


Johnson and Felmet were seated in front. The driver asked them to move as soon as he boarded. They were arrested quickly, for the police station was just across the street from the bus station. Felmet did not get up to accompany the police until the officer specifically told him he was under arrest. Because he delayed rising from his seat, he was pulled up bodily and shoved out of the bus. The bus driver distributed witness cards to occupants of the bus. One white girl said: "You don't want me to sign one of those. I'm a damn Yankee, and I think this is an outrage." Rustin and Roodenko, sensing the favorable reaction on the bus, decided they would move to the seat in the front vacated by Johnson and Felmet. Their moving forward caused much discussion by passengers. The driver returned soon, and when Rustin and Roodenko refused to move, they were arrested also. A white woman at the front of the bus, a Southerner, gave her name and address to Rustin as he walked by her. The men were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, for refusing to obey the bus driver and, in the case of the whites, for interfering with arrest. The men were released on $50 bonds.

conduit for nonviolent direct action
Conduit for Nonviolent Direct Action
  • Rustin arrested on another “morals charge” in 1953, dismissed from FOR
  • Found position at War Resisters League (est. 1923)
  • Advised MLK during Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56)
  • Helped form Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957) and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (1960)
john lewis on nashville sit in 1960
John Lewis on Nashville Sit-In (1960)

We made a decision to go, and we all went to the same store. It was a Woolworth in the heart of the downtown area, and we occupied every seat at the lunch counter, every seat in the restaurant, and it did happen. A group of young white men came in and they started pulling and beating primarily the young women. They put lighted cigarettes down their backs, in their hair, and they were really beating people. In a short time police officials came in and placed all of us under arrest, and not a single member of the white group, the people that were opposing our sit-in, was arrested. That was the first time that I was arrested. Growing up in the rural South, you learned that it was not the thing to do. To go to jail was to bring shame and disgrace on the family. But for me it was like being involved in a holy crusade, it became a badge of honor.

a philip randolph institute
A. Philip Randolph Institute
  • Rustin counseled “compromise” at DNC, advocated moratorium on demonstrations during election
  • 1965, left WRL and headed Randolph’s Institute to build connections between organized labor and civil rights
  • Branded “Black Power” shift in Civil rights movement as reactionary
  • Hesitant about opposition to War, frustrated with calls for Vietnamese victory
bayard rustin from protest to politics commentary february 1965
Bayard Rustin “From Protest to Politics,” Commentary (February 1965)

The civil rights movement is evolving from a protest movement into a full-fledged social movement -anevolution calling its very name into question. It is now concerned not merely with removing the barriers to full opportunity but with achieving the fact of equality. From sit-ins and Freedom Rides we have gone into rent strikes, boycotts, community organization, and political action. As a consequence of this natural evolution, the Negro today finds himself stymied by obstacles of far greater magnitude than the legal barriers he was attacking before: automation, urban decay, defacto school segregation. These are problems which, while conditioned by Jim Crow, do not vanish upon its demise. They are more deeply rooted in our socioeconomic order; they are the result of the total society's failure to meet not only the Negro's needs but human needs generally.