Life of Bayard Rustin – pioneering, gay civil rights activist – to take center stage in new performance

LONG BEACH — The life of pioneering, gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who mentored Martin Luther King Jr., will take center stage this weekend in a performance from the South Coast Chorale, Long Beach’s LGBTQ chorus.


Rustin was not only the architect of King’s March on Washington in 1963, but also a genius in planning nonviolent protests.

The West Coast premiere of “The Man Behind the Dream” will take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Long Beach. Tickets range from $20 to $30.

ALSO READ: Meet Bayard Rustin, the gay, civil rights icon who helped Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We are excited to bring this important story out of the shadows and share it with our audience,” Chris Smith, South Coast Chorale artistic director, said in a press release. “We hope this concert will serve as a vehicle to strengthening the bridges between Long Beach’s LGBT and African American communities.”

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.

On November 20, 2013, President Barack Obama bestowed a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — on Rustin. Walter Naegle, Rustin’s surviving boyfriend, accepted the award.


Through song and narration, “The Man Behind the Dream” tells the story of Bayard being raised by his grandmother, coming out as a teenager, and how he fought for injustice and civil rights throughout his adulthood, which led to his friendship with King.

ALSO READ: Bayard Rustin’s love story with Walter Naegle

“The Man Behind the Dream,” written by Cincinnati composer Steve Milloy, is a multi-movement piece set for chorus, spoken word, soloists and band and includes more than 125 singers from the Long Beach area, including First Congregational Church of Long Beach Sanctuary Choir, the Long Beach Poly High School Gospel Choir, Wilson High School Choir, and members of the Christian Fellowship Chorale.

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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