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WASHINGTON – The White House today announced Bayard Rustin, the late civil and human rights advocate will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
An aide and confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Rustin was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an iconic moment in the history of our nation.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin wrote President Barack Obama a letter earlier this year urging him to posthumously grant the medal to Rustin.
“Bayard Rustin’s contributions to the American civil rights movement remain paramount to its successes to this day,” Griffin said today. “His role in the fight for civil rights of African-Americans is all the more admirable because he made it as a gay man, experiencing prejudice not just because of his race, but because of his sexual orientation as well.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is — along with the comparable Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress — the highest civilian award in the United States. It recognizes those individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”. The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform. It was established in 1963 and replaced the earlier Medal of Freedom that was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1945.
Rustin was active in the struggle for civil rights for 60 years, from organizing early freedom rides in the 1940s, to serving as key advisor to Dr. King, to helping found the A. Philip Randolph Institute. But his advocacy was far from limited to the rights of African Americans. He worked to end apartheid in South Africa, fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews, worked to protect the property of Japanese Americans interned during World War II, and helped highlight the plight of Vietnamese “boat people.” And in the 1980s, he also spoke up for the rights of LBGT people, testifying in support of anti-discrimination legislation in New York.
“Bayard Rustin dedicated his life to advocating for fairness and equality and overcame prejudice to help move our nation forward,” Griffin said.