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On Bayard Rustin

Last Friday, I had a short essay at The New Republic Online discussing the legacy of Bayard Rustin, the 20th anniversary of whose death was August 24th. Rustin was a towering figure among American liberals, even though some could no longer recognize him as one of their own at the time of his death in 1987. Rustin, who got his start in politics as a Quaker pacifist, ended up as a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY, a founding board member of the pro-Scoop Jackson/anti-McGovernite Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger, and as Chairman of the Executive Committee of Freedom House. All of these organization had incurred the disfavor and wrath of large segments of the American Left, because of their unabashedly anti-Communist, pro-democratization policies and aims.

Rustin was also the most prominent African-American defender of the state of Israel (another casus belli for much of the American Left), having founded the Black American Israel Support Committee (BASIC) in 1975, as a response to the United Nations’ resolution equating Zionism to racism and to the then-rising tide of black anti-Semitism. In honor of Rustin, COMMENTARY has made available some of his most trenchant essays written in its pages.

From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement—February, 1965.

Written after the congressional passage of major civil rights legislation, this article was a call to African-Americans to involve themselves in political organizing. Rustin would soon become a target of the Black Panthers and other radicals for arguing against black nationalism.

The “Watts Manifesto” & The McCone Report—March, 1966.

In this essay, Rustin analyzes the roots of black anger that led to the Watts riots of 1965.

The War Against Zimbabwe—July, 1979.

In April of 1979, Rustin was part of a Freedom House delegation to monitor elections in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. This is the most thorough and convincing attack on the Carter administration’s policies towards this southern African state and its feckless dealings with communist-sponsored movements more generally, and delivers a prescient warning against the horrors of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Rustin was one of the very few black American leaders to speak out against a transition to power that put Mugabe in control.



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