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City Council to Vote on Resolution for Postal Stamp Honoring Martin Luther King Confidante Arrested in Pasadena

Published on Monday, June 5, 2023 | 4:00 am

Bayard Rustin in New Ork City. [New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection/Library of Congress]
The City Council will vote on a resolution on Monday honoring a gay Civil Rights advocate who was arrested in Pasadena in 1953 during the movement with a US postage stamp.

Police arrested Bayard Rustin after he was found having sex with two men in a parked car in Pasadena. He was in town as part of a lecture tour on anti-colonial struggles in West Africa.

Prosecutors charged Rustin with vagrancy after he served 50 days in the L.A. County jail, a common charge levied against LGBTQ people at the time. He was forced to register as a sex offender. 

Rustin was a confidante of Martin Luthor King Jr. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned him in 2020 and issued an executive order creating what he called a new clemency initiative to identify those who might be eligible for pardons. He died in 1987.

“In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” Newsom said in a statement. He thanked those who pushed for Rustin’s pardon and encouraged others in similar circumstances “to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”

Newsom noted that police and prosecutors nationwide at the time used charges like vagrancy, loitering and sodomy to punish lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.

One of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin played a key role in the Civil Rights movement. He was jailed and brutally beaten for refusing to give up his seat on a bus.

The results of Rustin’s Pasadena arrest and conviction were painful and swift. He was removed him from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization.

South Carolina Senator Storm Thurmond read Rustin’s entire arrest file into the Congressional record in an effort to discredit the Civil Rights Movement. As a result, several civil rights leaders distanced themselves from Rustin publicly.

In 2013, Rustin was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” said President Barack Obama. “In awarding the medal, the President said, “For decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay.”

The Bayard Rustin coalition is asking citizens to send a letter to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee.

“Now we have the chance to help right this wrong.” the letter says. “With this commemorative stamp, we can give Rustin and his legacy the public awareness and recognition they deserve. It’s time to honor a true hero of the on-going fight for civil rights.”

A copy of the letter can be found here

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