In celebration of Black History Month, I talked with Walter Naegle, who was pioneer civil rights activist Bayard Rustin's partner for the last decade of Rustin's life (who died in 1987). Rustin was an advisor to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., teaching him strategies of nonviolence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma March. He then reached international notoriety in 1963 as the openly gay organizer of the March on Washington. With the racial unrest in this country, and in recognition of Black History Month, Cleis Press has just published a new ebook edition of Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin with the timely message of nonviolent and peaceful protest. In 2013, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor posthumously to Bayard Rustin. Naegle accepted the award on Rustin's behalf stating:
Being black, being homosexual, being a political radical, that's a combination that's pretty volatile and it comes along like Halley's Comet. Bayard's life was complex, but at the same time, I think it makes it a lot more interesting.
I talked to Naegle about what Bayard was really like, how they met, the importance of Rustin's work and his spin on our LGBT issues. When asked what his personal commitment is to LGBT civil rights Naegle stated:
My personal commitment is to be who I am as an LGBT person, and more broadly, a human being [that] support LGBT equality and issues whenever I can, which nowadays is very often speaking at colleges and community centers and libraries and lifting up the fact that Bayard was a very important leader in the civil and human rights movement, who happened to be LGBT and lived during a time when these kinds of things weren't discussed.
And, yet, he was able to live fairly openly as a gay man. He paid the price for it, but actions that were taken to try and quiet him never really succeeded. He rose above all that stuff, and was able to make a significant contribution to the democratization of our society as a whole, so that is really the reason why a lot of younger LGBT folks kind of lift him up now as an inspiration and as a hero. I guess my commitment would be to sort of continue promoting his legacy and his values and to live as an integrated person myself.
Beyond being Bayard Rustin's partner for the last decade of Rustin's life, Naegle has served as Rustin's executor and archivist, and he is the Executive Director of the Bayard Rustin Fund, which promotes Rustin's legacy and values. Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin showcases the extraordinary career of this black gay civil rights pioneer. Spanning five decades, the book combines classic texts from Bayard Rustin, ranging in topics from Gandhi's impact on African-Americans, white supremacists in Congress, the antiwar movement and the assassination of Malcolm X, with never-before published selections on the call for gay rights, Louis Farrakhan, affirmative action, AIDS and women's rights. Also included in the book are 25 photos from the Rustin estate with a foreword by Barack Obama and an afterword by Barney Frank.