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I Must Resist by Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin's life in letters.

Stephanie Wong | 24 Aug 2018

A book image of I Must Resist by Bayard Rustin

Image credit: Act Build Change.

Bayard Rustin is the master strategist, movement builder and mentor to Martin Luther King Jr.

In his book, I Must Resist, Rustin shares almost four decades of resistance through 150 letters: Including letters to Eleanor Holmes Norton, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Ella Baker, and of course Martin Luther King, Jr.

Three Takeaways

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life
  2. Build Power
  3. Leadership means you develop others

Mr March on Washington

Bayard Rustin (March 17, 1912  August 24, 1987) is most well known for organising the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the U.S. It earned him the nickname Mr March on Washington. It was at this march when Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) delivered his legendary I Have a Dream speech to 250,000 civil rights supporters. It would move a nation, a world, and inspire generations to act for humanity.


Rustin was greatly influenced by Gandhis and he brought his nonviolent methods to the American civil rights movement. Rustin was an outspoken pacifist and in 1944, a time of war, Rustin refused to register for the draft and was sentenced to three years in prison. In prison, he protested segregation and would face violence from prison guards and white prisoners. As the mentor to MLK, he showed King that nonviolence was not only a method but a way of life: Shaping King into the international leader of nonviolence we all remember.


Despite Rustins achievements, he was often kept in the background. This was because Rustin was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era. He was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions. Even MLK would cut ties with him in 1960 after Rustin was found guilty of having sex with a man. By 1963, however, King asked Rustin to return. He was tactically brilliant, visionary and King could not succeed without him by his side.


From pacifism to ending poverty to battles for sexual freedom, Rustin was a tireless activist who was nearly erased from history. This book ensures we remember Rustin not only changed America he changed the world for the better.