Jerald Podair (Professor of History and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies, Lawrence University)
April 14, 2021
Bayard Rustin was twentieth century America’s great radical voice. His vision contained multitudes, fusing labor rights, racial justice, sexual equality, socialism, and pacifism. He may well have been America’s first intersectional radical. But in the 1960s, Rustin’s attempt to weave the strands of his activism together into a broad-based program for transformative change fell victim to the centrifugal forces of racial, ethnic, class, and antiwar identifications, forcing him into a series of “awful choices” among the causes that had defined his life. We will use speeches, letters, essays, and other contemporaneous writings to show how Rustin’s fate serves as a reminder of both America’s moral potential and the limits of even its most capacious radical visions.
This series is a partnership between the National Humanities Center and the National Council for the Social Studies and is generously sponsored by the Library of Congress’ Teaching for Primary Sources grant program.