Bayard Rustin Receives Posthumous Medal of Freedom Award

August 8, 2013

Bayard Rustin, known to some as the behind-the-scenes architect of the Civil Rights movement, was awarded posthumously the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama at the White House on August 8, 2013.   

Bayard Rustin, a West Chester, PA native, attended Cheyney University (known at that time as Cheyney State College), where his singing ability earned him a music scholarship.  Rustin also was the keynote speaker at the University's 1971 commencement.  

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  At the ceremony, President Barack Obama named Rustin one of 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  

This year, 2013, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the first ceremony bestowing the honor on an inaugural class of 31 recipients.  Since that time, more than 500 exceptional individuals from all corners of society have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

 President Obama said, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude."

Other awardees this year included baseball player Ernie Banks, newsman Ben Bradlee, President Bill Clinton, Former U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (posthumous), Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, country music singer Loretta Lynn, Former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, Nobel Prize winner Mario Molina, Astronaut Sally Ride (posthumous), jazz artist Arturo Sandoval, former college basketball coach Dean Smith, women's rights activist Gloria Steinem, civil rights leader Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, former appellate judge Patricia Wald, and broadcast mogul Oprah Winfrey. 

At Cheyney University's 2013 Founder's Day convocation on March 1, 2013, Rustin was recognized with a proclamation expressing the University's profound appreciation for his selfless dedication, and was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, posthumously, at the 2013 Commencement on May 18, 2013. 

Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all.  An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad.  As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.  August 28 marks the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which drew more than 250,000 people to the nation's capital where Martin Luther King gave the legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.