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Martin Mayer, "The Lone Wolf of Civil Rights." The Saturday Evening Post
July 11, 1964

[Bayard] Rustin is a free lance in a romantic tradition associated with cheap novels and bad television rather than with real life: He is a fighter whose talents are always available to A Good Cause. Usually the Cause is civil rights or pacifism, though Rustin has also set up picket lines to support strikes, to protest British imperialism, and to denounce German anti-Semitism. He is affiliated permanently with only one organization—the War Resisters League, which lists him as executive secretary on leave to work for others. He has no job. A Quaker group in New York sends him a little money every month, but basically he lives on the fees he is paid for organizing demonstrations.

"I believe in social dislocation and creative trouble," Rustin says; and within these categories he specializes in imagination and invention. The man is an artist as well as an organizer—he made his living for some years as a nightclub singer, working with Josh White and Leadbelly at the old Café Society in New York, and he could make a living tomorrow as an interior decorator specializing in antiques. To Rustin, a demonstration is a piece of theater which will be a memorable experience for the spectators (which is what most people are); and it is an opportunity to find a soft spot where concerted action can make a dent in society.

Copyright © 1964 BFL&MS, Inc.  Selected from the Library of America anthology.  See  Reporting  Civil  Rights:  American Journalism 1963-1973.