A few years ago, Human Rights Campaign (HTC) gave away copies of a DVD for the 2003 PBS POV film “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin”, a biography I overlooked it, and discovered it while packing to move from house to condo this fall in my own personal “downsizing”.
The 84 minute documentary is directed by Bennett Singer and Nancy Kates. It features a lot of black and white newsreel footage in small aspect, as well as interviews with two of Rustin’s male partners and also Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Rustin is perhaps best known for working with Dr. Martin Luther King on various events including the 1963 March on Washington, as a covert gay man. But his life spanned many issues, moving from communism to anti-communism, working with labor unions to get them up to speed on civil rights, draft resistance, and only later in life openness about homosexuality. The film ends with some coverage of the 1987 LGB march on Washington; the 1993 LGB march was larger and better known (I attended it) and covered heavily by writers like Andrew Sullivan.
Throughout his life, the FBI closely monitored him. He served prison time for resisting the WWII draft, and wrote to his male partner from prison as if his partner was a woman. He had at one time joined the Young Communist League (in 1936) but after the US entered WWII the communists dropped their interest in race relations. Ironically, later, he would push for racial integration of the military, which Truman achieved in 1948.
Later in life, he would be busted for public sex in Pasadena CA in 1953, and the history of a “morals charge” would be used in rhetoric against him, as by Senator Strom Thurmond (whom we know emphatically opposed lifting the ban on gays in the military in 1993, with his “it isn’t normal” rant in a public assembly in Norfolk right in front of Tracey Thorne.)
Later in his life, Rustin became anti-communist and supported US involvement in Vietnam but criticized many of the specific actions taken by the military. The film does cover the issue of identity politics and intersectionality as Rustin experienced it in earlier generations. He created controversy as to whether is involvement with labor issues and later Vietnam represented the best interest of “his own people”, African-Americans. He believed that African-Americans (called “negroes” in the 1960s when I was coming of age) needed to accept that technology would affect the labor market for everyone. Heliked to use the phrase “angelic troublemakers”.
|Name:||“Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin“|
|Director, writer:||Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer|
|Format:||1.85:1 (often 1:37:1), often BW|
|When and how viewed:||DVD giveaway from HRC, 2017/12/27|
|Companies:||Question Why, PBS POV|
(Posted: Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 at