“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” – BAYARD RUSTIN quoted in WE ARE ONE, an illustrated biography for young readers, by Larry Dane Brimner
In my crowd, I am often late to knowledge.
Clarity about the meaning of the everyday term for where I live in the cosmos – the universe – ONE SONG – only arrived when I became a mother. This left me giddy. ‘One song, one song, one song,” I remember lilting to my baby girl as we danced around the room. And then I thought of the Beatles: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together..”
WE ARE ONE is the perfect title for an illustrated biography of one of the most famous men of the Civil Rights Movement you have yet to hear of. I am late, very late, to know about him. I feel privileged that Larry Dane Brimner is the person who brings him to me.
With recent events in the country of pharaohs, watching the expression of oneness in Cairo, it’s a good time to examine WE ARE ONE, The Story of Bayard Rustin. Without this book, black history months such as this one is, would come and go with nary a mention of Rustin.
I hope this title earned a shelf of awards.
The author has tackled a key person in U.S. Civil Rights history who is under-represented on children’s bookshelves, as far as I can tell, from skimming the titles out there.
Secondly, Rustin was gay and a member of the Communist Party in the United States. To his great credit, Larry Dane Brimner presents these topics with more than a cover-the-bases sentence for each of these area of Rustin’s complex life.
Finally, he knocks the socks off the reader by uncovering one outstanding fact after another of this unsung hero.
For example –
Who convinced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not to carry a gun and not to keep an armed guard at his house in Montgomery during the tense days of the civil rights protests of 1955 & 1956? It was the peaceful protest that Dr. King became synonymous with.
Who repeatedly tested the color barriers on public buses & also the response of Southern bus drivers & riders, in 1942 long before Rosa Parks (1955) , and was hauled off the bus and arrested?
Whose arrest for sitting in a “white” seat while living his peaceful life as a black man, resulted in his working on THE CHAIN GANG in North Carolina?
After getting off the chain gang (think COOL HAND LUKE, there is a movie in Bayard Rustin’s life ) whose article about that chain gang labor, in The New York Post, helped bring about an end to the North Carolina chain gangs?
Who was a Quaker?
Who credited his peaceful protest guidance of the Civil Rights movement to his grandmother?
Who organized every detail of the Aug. 28, 1963 rally for equality on the National Mall – from details about what kind of box lunch each bus rider should bring for themselves, to how to get 100,000 mainly poor black folks, safely from their small home towns to the nation’s Capitol?
From the author we learn the answer to each of these questions is: Bayard Rustin.
Before reading this book, my answer to a lot of these questions would have been something like, “Well, somehow I thought King had done that.”
Rustin is the fella who created the crowd for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , at the Washington Monument that August 28 of 1963. Rustin brought people with no means to travel, with the challenges of travel & lodging for black folks, to fill up the long Mall in Washington, D.C. He did this without e-mail, cell phones, tweeting, Facebook, MySpace, ATMs &, well you know the ways of today.
This is a fabulous biography. I enjoyed everything, especially I liked reading about his West Chester, Pennsylvania family, where the grandmother, was a Quaker and therefore a pacifist. Grandma Julia married a man who had been born into slavery, Janifer Rustin. Not only that, he was a slave in the North, so when Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, it didn’t “free” Janifer Rustin. That happened a year after, when the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. Congress. We begin to see the kinds of stories the young Bayard learned, growing up with Mr. and Mrs. Rustin. Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 and passed on in 1987.
Faced with this wealth of material, I’m not sure how I would have crafted the story. I might have been tempted to just keep the Bayard Rustin file open, indefinitely, seeking subjects easier to translate to teachers and those they tutor in civics and Civil Rights topics.
We are all fortunate, every one, that Larry Dane Brimner chose to delve into the topic and emerge with a lively and enlightening story.
Unlike many of the authors whose books I choose to write about here, I don’t know Brimner as a pal. I liked chatting with him at a book-signing table last year as he met teacher fans, but it was a brief contact & I got no sense of who he was, other than another writer sitting on a high chair before a table with a stack of books my his side & a smile on his face for each person who presented a crisp hardbound illustrated book toward him to sign.
I apologize to the school intended to be gifted the copy that I had Brimner sign. I have kept it far too long since November when I bought it. But with this post going up in mid-February, I will take it there next visit. And I am grateful to my pal
Joan Broerman for her early recommendation of this title.
For more on Mr. Rustin, in addition to Larry Dane Brimner’s valuable book, there is an excellent resource I found from the material in the back copy of WE ARE ONE, at Columbia University’s oral history project. You may also want to see Mr. Rustin on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1963. Those were the days we received not only LIFE but LOOK, every week at home. So that means he was in my living room & likely, I saw this same cover on our coffee table, but being a little kid, it didn’t sink in. I am thankful for this chance to understand, through the teachings of Mr. Rustin that WE ARE ONE.