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(1948) Bayard Rustin, “Jim Crow Army"

By the early 1960s Bayard Rustin would emerge as a major strategist for the civil rights movement and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King.  In 1948, however, he was less well known among the American population.   By that point, however, most of his views were shaped and well known.  In World War II, for example, Rustin spent two years in prison as a conscientious objector to the draft.  In the speech below he argues that young black men should challenge segregation in the U.S. military and in society in general through civil disobedience campaigns.   He calls on them to refuse to serve if they are drafted.

IT IS A REAL OPPORTUNITY to speak with American citizens who seriously seek to remove racial and religious intolerance from our national life, for recent history amply reveals that America cannot gain moral leadership in the world until intolerance of minority groups has been eliminated at home. The Journey of Reconciliation was organized not only to devise techniques for eliminating Jim Crow in travel, but also as a training ground for similar peaceful projects against discrimination in such major areas as employment and in the armed services.

The use of these methods against Jim Crow military service is a regrettable necessity. Today no single injustice more bitterly stands out in the hearts and minds of colored people the world over, or continues more successfully to frustrate the United States efforts abroad, than the continuation of discrimination and segregation in our military forces.

As a follower of the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, I am an opponent of war and of war preparations and an opponent of universal military training and conscription; but entirely apart from that issue, I hold that segregation in any part of the body politic is an act of slavery and an act of war. Democrats will agree that such acts are to be resisted, and more and more leaders of the oppressed are responsibly proposing nonviolent civil disobedience and non- cooperation as the means.

On March 22, 1948, A. Philip Randolph and