Witnessing historical moments come to life on the silver screen has always been an extraordinary experience. The concluding moments of Rustin successfully capture that essence by recreating those iconic moments of 1963’s March on Washington. Directed by George C. Wolfe, Rustin is a biographical drama based on an important figure in the American civil rights movement named Bayard Rustin. When mentioning human rights, non-violent movements, and freedom in history, we often mention the names of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but we tend to overlook the significance of Bayard Rustin; without him, such path-breaking historical events as the March on Washington might not have been possible.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
The US Supreme Court had ruled segregation unconstitutional, but discrimination and hatred were still prevailing in society. In 1960, we saw civil rights activist Ella Baker and union organizer Randolph encourage Martin Luther King Jr. to become the face of a large protest that was going to take place at the Democratic National Convention. Initially, Dr. King was hesitant about the protest, but only his friend and associate, Bayard Rustin, could convince him to initiate the protest. However, things didn’t work out as Rustin had planned, as Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, who was strongly against Rustin’s presence at their committee, accused Rustin of having a secret affair with Dr. King. Rustin didn’t want to leave the committee, but he gave his resignation letter in the hope that his friend, Martin, would eventually stop him and go against Powell. But Rustin’s heart was broken when Dr. King accepted his resignation letter and bid him farewell. The protest they had planned earlier was eventually cancelled, which was even more frustrating for Rustin than his resignation from the SCLC.
After that, he moved in with his lover, Tom, who was a PhD student at Columbia University. Not only Tom, but many other students were very fond of Rustin, who had always encouraged them to protest against racial and class discrimination. One day, when Rustin came up with an idea to revive the need for a march for the civil rights movement, he gathered all his young disciples and friends to hatch a plan for a march in Washington, DC. Bayard Rustin and his desire to rally as many people as possible to the March on Washington become the heart and soul of the story of Rustin, but conflicts arise when NAACP leader Roy Wilkins and other members of the Civil Rights Association stand in his way.
How Did Martin And Rustin Reconcile?
Dr. King had already given up on his hope when NAACP leader Wilkins refused to stage the protest. Ella Baker took the initiative to persuade Rustin to reconcile with his friend Martin Luther King Jr. Due to previous misunderstandings, they’d drifted apart without actively participating in any kind of argument. But now, as Rustin felt that he needed to team up with Luther King for the greater good of this country, he stepped forward to reunite with him. He went straight to Dr. King’s house and met with his wife, Coretta. Seemingly, the rumors that Powell had spread earlier about Dr. King and Rustin didn’t affect Coretta’s trust in her old friend Rustin. She still believed that Rustin was their dearest pal and a true friend whom she and her husband could rely on. Rustin met with Dr. King and sorted out their previous misunderstandings. Dr. King was also looking forward to leading the march, so he had already given his permission to Rustin.
Did Rustin And Elias End Up Together?
Apart from being a freedom fighter and an opponent of racism, Bayard Rustin had another identity, for which he was severely criticized in the 1960s. Bayard Rustin was an openly gay man who was never afraid to embrace his sexual orientation. The Netflix film masterfully portrayed how Rustin not only spoke up against racial discrimination but also raised his voice against the homophobic community around him. In 1953, in Pasadena, he was arrested after being caught in the act of intimacy with two men, which he had always maintained a secret, but during the time, when he was all set to act as an advisor for Martin Luther King Jr., leading the August March on Washington, several other associates raised the case against his sexuality, bringing up the 1953 Incident in Pasadena. but nothing could stop the man from achieving his goal. Martin Luther King defended his friend on national television, taking the stage to appreciate how hard-working Rustin was. He also admired Rustin for his unwavering love and devotion for his community and his desire to promote equal human rights.
Meanwhile, when Rustin was meeting up with the associates of NAACP and the other fellow participants of the civil rights movement, he met with a minister named Elias Taylor, who was a closeted homosexual married to a woman named Claudia Taylor. Elias and Rustin grew closer to each other, but one day, when he learned about his wife’s pregnancy, he decided to call things off. Rustin asked him to reconsider, saying that if he didn’t accept himself as a homosexual man, he would not only kill a part of himself, but he would kill himself entirely. However, not everyone was as brave as Rustin was, especially in the 1960s, when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense. Although Elias’s character was a fictional take on this story, and we’re not sure if Rustin really had a lover in the name of Elias, this portion of the story helped us connect with Rustin’s journey as an individual who had faced this struggle in his life.
What Happened In The March On Washington? Did Rustin Keep His Promise?
Rustin actively planned and arranged for the upcoming march, which became a huge problem for many people. The associates of the NAACP began to question Bayard Rustin’s affiliations with the communist party. Due to that, he was even removed from the NAACP by Wilkins and his associates, but later, A. Philip Randolph made him the deputy director. Together, teaming up with his team containing the young students, Rustin opened the Utopia Neighborhood Clubhouse, where they arranged everything necessary for the upcoming march in August 1963. He even vowed that if the protest could gather at least 100,000 people, he was even ready to pick up the trash. Rustin trained the Black Corps to be present at the march for security purposes, but he asked them not to bring arms. He was against the violence and wanted to maintain a peaceful atmosphere on the day of the protest.
Finally, overcoming all the obstacles in their path, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, and Dr. King led the historical March on Washington, protesting to secure equal rights for Jobs and Freedom in the year 1963. Around 250,000 people attended the protest, making it an iconic historical moment. The film even recreated Dr. King’s famous speech on “I Have a Dream.” He openly admired his friend Rustin’s involvement in the protest and appreciated his efforts. Finally, after achieving their desired goal, Rustin was invited to join the meeting in the Oval Office, but as Rustin had promised, he decided to pick up the trash first. He asked the trash collector guy to hand him his bucket, and he collected the trash, not only to keep his promise but to also prioritize the occupation and give respect to it.
Rustin film ended with some crucial information regarding Rustin’s personal life and the aftermath of the protest. After some nine months, Congress didn’t have any other option but to pass the Civil Rights Act. The new law abolished the on-going discrimination against race, color, sex, and religion. In 1977, Rustin met Walter Naegle and fell in love with him. His love story finally had a happy ending. However, in the year 1987, Rustin fell ill and passed away. Fifty years later, the man was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian award in America.