Meet Martin Luther King Jr.’s mentor — Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights activist

Do you know Bayard Rustin’s legacy?

Rustin was not only the architect of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963 and a genius in planning nonviolent protests, but also a mastermind at legal maneuvering in his personal life.

Bayard Rustin, left, was the architect behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963. King, right, also was mentored by Rustin. Photo: Monroe Frederick/Courtesy of the Estate of Bayard Rustin.

Rustin introduced King to the rules of nonviolence during the Montgomery bus boycott, which helped plant the seed for the Civil Rights Movement; however, because Rustin was gay, he remained in the shadows for the sake of the movement, and was sacrificed by its leaders as a political liability.

READ MORE: Bayard Rustin mentored Martin Luther King Jr.

Rustin and Walter Naegle were an intergenerational love story. They met in 1977. Rustin was 65, and Naegle was 27.

Rustin and Naegle were a couple more than 40 years before marriage equality was conceivable, but they wanted to legalize their relationship to have the rights afforded to heterosexual couples. They found that legal protection, such as being allowed hospital visitation or inheriting a deceased partner’s estate, in adoption. In 1982, Rustin adopted Naegle.

READ MORE: Bayard Rustin documentary tells his love story with Walter Naegle

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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