This month’s books are works showcasing activists in their own words. These are powerful and intimate texts, taking you into the minds and hearts of two men who strove to uplift marginalized communities and effect lasting change to systems of oppression which silence and kill. These books offer a piece of recent history and remind us how far we’ve come—and how far we have yet to go.
“I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters”
Bayard Rustin was an influential voice in the civil rights movement and the brains behind the 1963 March on Washington, organizing and working tirelessly in the background. He was a socialist and a gay man and as such was often kept out of more visible roles in the movement. Despite this, Bayard was a resister. He advocated for peaceful resistance and a just society.
Bayard wrote letters to everyone from presidents to Martin Luther King Jr. to the warden at the prison he was held. Included are letters he wrote to Davis Platt, the man he loved and eventually lived with after his imprisonment. The correspondence that survived gives an important look at Bayard’s struggles and activism, and is at times personal as well as professional.
Each letter has a piece beforehand contextualizing it, as well as offering any needed explanations or additional information. A few of the letters are from people or organizations to each other, discussing Bayard. From the back cover:
“A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the U.S. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement and played a deeply influential role in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to mold him into an international symbol of nonviolence.
Despite these achievements, Rustin often remained in the background. He was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era.
Here we have Rustin in his own words in a collection of over 150 of his letters; his correspondents include the major progressives of his day — for example, Eleanor Holmes Norton, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Ella Baker, and of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bayard Rustin’s ability to chart the path “from protest to politics,” is both timely and deeply informative. Here, at last, is direct access to the strategic thinking and tactical planning that led to the successes of one of America’s most transformative and historic social movements.”
“We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan”
Lou Sullivan was an activist, historian, and revolutionary. Born in Milwaukee, Lou made his way to San Francisco and became very involved with queer and transgender organizations, from publishing pieces in newsletters to putting out FTM information for others’ benefit. He was a founding member of the GLBT Historical Society and organized the first peer support group for trans men.
Despite medical professionals recognizing straight trans men but not gay trans men, Lou held fast to his sexuality. His entries detail his relationships and encounters, and, after contracting HIV, his fears of dying before professionals acknowledge someone like him exists. He documents everything from his inner thoughts to life events to his surgeries.
The diary also touches on Lou’s journey to publish a biography of Jack Bee Garland, an AFAB man from the turn of the 20th century. He wanted to see both the biography and his diary in print, but only managed to achieve the former before his death. An archive of his work is kept by the GLBT Historical Society. From the publisher’s site:
“‘We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan’ narrates the inner life of a gay trans man moving through the shifting social, political, and medical mores of the second half of the 20th century. Sullivan kept comprehensive journals from age eleven until his AIDS-related death at thirty-nine. Sensual, lascivious, challenging, quotidian and poetic, the diaries complicate and disrupt normative trans narratives. Entries from twenty-four diaries reveal Sullivan’s self-articulation and the complexity of a fascinating and courageous figure.”