The significant role Bayard Rustin played in orchestrating the peaceful March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 has been nearly forgotten.
As deputy directory and chief organizer of the march, Rustin designated hundreds of captains who kept small groups of the more than 200,000 people in line by referring to a 12-page manual he had created, according to news reports.
As chief organizer, he trained off-duty police officers how to handle the crowd peacefully and without any weapons. He oversaw the renting of portable toilets, wrote slogans that were to be shouted at appropriate times, vetted speeches and allotted equal time to an array of groups.
Since that successful march, no one has stepped forward to deny that the only black man who could have pulled it off was Rustin.
So, why did he fade from the pages of history?
According to the 2003 documentary, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, the lack of recognition is due in large part to his being an openly gay man at a time when being gay or lesbian was a criminal offense and morally denounced.
Black leaders, especially, had a problem with Rustin's open sexuality. But A. Philip Randolph, longtime civil rights activist and head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, knew Rustin was the one person who could pull off the march. Randolph brought Rustin back into the inner circle of the movement after other leaders had shoved him out.
"Bayard had a lot of baggage — communist youth member, conscientious objector," said Walter Naegle, Rustin's partner from 1977 until Rustin's death in 1987, a couple of years ago. "But being gay was the one thing that was unforgivable to a lot of civil rights leaders."
In 2013, Rustin received the national recognition that had eluded him when President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his service.
Brother Outsider will be shown at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center on Sept. 20, as a part of this region's first Bluegrass Black Pride event.
Established in October 2013, the event wants to "heighten awareness and visibility of the black gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender community" and to address the disdain for gays in the black community.
John Bentley of Lexington, Black Pride chairman, said the four-day event is not competition for the Lexington Pride Festival held in June.
"We just want to celebrate diversity," he said. "A lot of major cities have a black pride and a regular pride. It is nothing racist; we are just celebrating who we are."
The event will include an awards dinner on Sept. 20 honoring living and deceased members of the gay community. There will also be a free health fair at the Lyric with a focus on HIV testing.
"African-American gay men are being infected in greater numbers than our white counterparts," Bentley said. "This is another avenue to get our message out."
Following the free showing of the documentary, a discussion will be led by Mandy Carter, who is an "out, Southern, black, lesbian social justice activist," from Durham, N.C., who is the National Coordinator for the Bayard Rustin Commemoration Project of the National Black Justice Coalition. NBJC, which Carter co-founded in 2003, is dedicated to empowering black LGBT people and ending racism and homophobia.
Carter had planned to be a doctor. However, in high school she connected with the idea of civil disobedience and non-violent protest espoused by Quaker visitors who came to her school.
"It was the fundamental idea that if you have a moral underpinning about equality and justice for all, then no matter what comes down the track, it is there for the long haul," she said, adding she dropped out of college and has been working for the cause for more than 45 years.
Carter never met Rustin but has become obsessed with him and his fight. The Rustin project began in 1983 as groups began to push for his work to be recognized. Every 10 years, on the anniversary of the March on Washington, groups were asking for the Presidential Medal of Freedom to be awarded him.
"He was a bridge builder, he was about coalitions and collaborations," Carter said. "In a country that is obsessed about power and who you know, one person can be a game-changer."
Carter would like local residents who attended the March on Washington to be recognized at the documentary showing. "We want to extend an invitation to them and say thank you," she said.