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Martin Luther King Confidante Arrested in Pasadena Receives Posthumous Pardon

Bayard Rustin charged 'vagrancy' charged with vagrancy in 1953

Published on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 | 5:56 am

Gov. Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned a gay activist and confidante of Martin Luther King Jr. arrested in Pasadena in 1953 and issued an executive order creating what he called a new clemency initiative to identify those who might be eligible for pardons

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. 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.

He encouraged Californians to apply for clemency for people they believe meet that criteria, with details and updates available at

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.

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