Metro Weekly

NBJC Calls for Bayard Rustin to be Honored with a Stamp

NBJC is requesting the U.S. Postal Service issue a "Black Heritage Stamp" commemorating openly gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.

Bayard Rustin – Photo: Warren K. Leffler/U.S. News and World Report

Coinciding with this weekend’s release of the film Rustin, which honors the deceased civil rights leader, the National Black Justice Coalition renewed its call for a “Black Heritage Stamp” honoring Bayard Rustin’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.

NBJC wants the postal service to unveil the stamp in February 2024, traditionally commemorated as Black History Month.

“Bayard Rustin was the mentor of well-known civil rights leaders and chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice,” NBJC wrote in a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

“Because of his identity as an openly same-gender loving man, he has been denied the recognition he deserves. Sadly, too few know about the life and legacy of Bayard. Those familiar with the March are largely unaware of how much more he did to defend democratic principles in the United States and abroad.

“Issuing a Bayard Rustin Black Heritage Stamp of Rustin will raise public awareness of his work and redress his exclusion from the Civil Rights Pioneers and Black Heritage series, which honors leaders Rustin mentored and platformed.”

The letter goes on to note that “Rustin taught and advised Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who has two different Forever Stamps honoring his life and legacy. Rustin organized and led the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, which has a Forever Stamp in its honor. Forever Stamps have been issued that honor the lives and legacies of several of Rustin’s mentees and colleagues, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Ella Baker, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Moore Young, Jr.

“Yet, thirty-six years after his passing, Rustin has not received one to honor his tremendous sacrifices to keep the momentum of the civil rights movement moving. This erasure must be remedied to ensure that homophobia no longer prevents Rustin from being recognized as the icon of the civil rights movement he is.”

Rustin made several notable contributions to civil rights in addition to the March on Washington, including helping to organize the first “Freedom Ride” in 1947, and the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.

Because of his sexual orientation, he often experienced discrimination, even among the ranks of civil rights leaders, and frequently relegated himself to less visible positions for fear that his sexuality would be used to smear his fellow civil rights advocates unfairly.

To educate people about Rustin’s life, accomplishments, and contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, NBJC features an online biography project called “Been Here,” which tells the stories of Black LGBTQ changemakers.

NBJC and other advocates had previously called for a stamp honoring Rustin in March 2022 to commemorate his birthday. They had initially called for the then-Democratic-controlled Congress to pass the Bayard Rustin Stamp Act, which would have memorialized Rustin on a “forever” stamp.

With Republicans now in control of the U.S. House of Representatives — and especially since Louisiana Republican and anti-LGBTQ advocate Mike Johnson has been elected House Speaker — any measure honoring even historical accomplishments of LGBTQ people would be dead on arrival. Hence, NBJC is taking the direct postal service route.

One aspect of Rustin’s life that could give anti-LGBTQ opponents and conservative allies “justification” for opposing a stamp to honor Rustin is his 1953 conviction for “vagrancy” after being caught having consensual sex with two men in a parked car in Pasadena, California.

He was sentenced to 60 days in prison and forced to register as a “sex offender” for violating the state’s anti-sodomy law. The two men he was involved with were never charged.

In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned Rustin on the grounds that the anti-sodomy statute he was convicted under had since been overturned, with all anti-sodomy laws being ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case.

For more information on Bayard Rustin and to access NBJC’s “Been Here” project, visit

Read our review of Rustin here.

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