Bayard Rustin was a pacifist, civil rights organizer and openly gay activist. Rustin combined the pacifism of the Quakers, the non-violent resistance taught by Gandhi, and the socialism espoused by African-American labor leader A. Philip Randolph to make up his personal-political belief system. During World War II, he was jailed for two years when he refused to register for the draft. In 1947 he was arrested in North Carolina for participating in protests against the segregated public transit system and was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks. In 1953 he was arrested on a morals charge for publicly engaging in homosexual activity and was sent to jail for 60 days, but he continued to live as an openly gay man. Rustin met the young civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s, taught King about Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent resistance and advised him on the tactics of civil disobedience. He assisted King with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956. Rustin was the chief organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which King delivered his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963. Rustin's status as a gay man was criticized by some fellow pacifists and civil-rights leaders.
He usually acted as an influential adviser behind the scenes to civil-rights leaders due to the unfair scrutiny of his personal life. In the 1980s, he became a public advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes.