So, a few days back, Ronn mentioned the upcoming (Janurary 20th, check your local listings) broadcast of Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. This week's (print) edition of Time Magazine features a column from, of all people, Andrew Sullivan, about Mr. Rustin. Standard stuff; he mentions that "Rustin went to New York City and, unfortunately, dabbled in Communist Pary activity before quitting in disgust in 1941." This is self-evidently unfortunate, so I'm not sure why I bothered adding emphasis. . .
There's also a bit where he writes:
Rustin never wavered in his belief in true racial integration. He saw the civil rights movement not as a protest against America or an indictment of it but as a way for America to live up to its own principles. In stark contrast to Malcolm X [you may now boo the villain - Ed.], with whom he civilly debated, Rustin emphasized not what white Americans owed blacks or what blacks could do in a separist ghetto [let it go, just. . . let it go - Ed.] but what blacks could contribute in a truly equal and integrated America. "I believe the great majority of the Negro people, black people, are not seeking anything from anyone," Rustin told [I said let it go - Ed.] Malcolm X in 1960. "They are seeking to become full-fledged citizens." The simplicity of that statement is as impressive as its moral clarity.
Luckily, the official site for Brother Outsider includes a Resources page, and one of the links there (A selection of writings by Bayard Rustin) includes the full text of Bayard Rustin Meets Malcolm X.
The response (from, it should be pointed out, Pre-Mecca Malcolm)?
Well, Mr. Rustin, let me say this about "full-fledged" or as they say "first-class" citizenship. Most of the so-called Negro leaders have got the Negro masses used to thinking in terms of second-class citizenship, of which there is no such thing. We who follow the Hon. Elijah Muhammad believe that a man is either a citizen or he is not a citizen. He is not a citizen by degree. If the black man in America is not recognized as a first-class citizen, we don't feel that he is a citizen at all. People come here from Hungary and are integrated into the American way of life overnight, they are not put into any fourth class or third class or any kind of class. The only one who is put in this category is the so-called Negro who is forced to beg the white man to accept him. We feel that if 100 years after the so-called Emancipation Proclamation the black man is still not free, then we don't feel that what Lincoln did set them free in the first place.
Which slightly undercuts that "moral clarity" Sullivan seemed so impressed with, I think.
The end of the piece includes something about how Rustin "had every right to be inflamed against the white establishment," but wasn't. Think I saw something similar in a piece about Mamie Till Mobley. If I was in a slightly worse mood, I'd point out that conservative & libertarian white folk only concede that right to people who refrain from exercising it. . .
Update: Almost forgot, the title of Sullivan's essay is "The `Invisible Man,'" and the first sentence reads, "He was, to purloin Ralph Ellison's phrase, the `Invisible man' of the civil rights movement." Which suggests to me that Sullivan never actually read Invisible Man (Dru, you re-read the novel recently, yes?). Seeing as the nameless lead character actually does get involved in a/the civil rights movement, and the Communits, if I remember a'right.
First read the book when I was 14 or so, and Woefully Ignorant of a Great Many Things. It's been about ten years since I re-read it, so maybe I should give it another go.
Oh yes, and none of this should be taken as a condemnation of Bayard Rustin, but rather of Sullivan's rather biased interpretation of the man and his place in history. Figure this point should be obvious, but I seem to have a very different definition of this word than most. . .