The Troublemaker

Bayard Rustin

We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” —Bayard Rustin


Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who was a member of the Notre Dame board of trustees, is being introduced to a new generation. Often relegated to the background during key civil rights events of the 20th century, Rustin’s long career as an activist and “troublemaker” is being recalled and celebrated.

A new biopic, Rustin, released in November on Netflix, recounts how Rustin, facing racism and homophobia as a Black gay man, joined the civil rights movement and took a lead role in planning the historic 1963 March on Washington.

At the August 1963 March on Washington, which drew hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin can be seen standing behind and to King’s right in photos of the speech.

Born 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and raised by his maternal grandparents, Rustin attended Wilberforce University, Cheney State Teachers College and City College of New York. He devoted his adult life to working for civil and human rights.

Rustin became a Notre Dame trustee in 1969, two years after the University shifted to a board composed primarily of laypeople. He was recommended for the board by Notre Dame President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, who had been serving on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission since 1957. At the time, Rustin was executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization for African American trade unionists.

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Originally published by Notre Dame Magazine at  on December 20, 2023.