J. P. Miller’s Bayard Rustin (2021)

Leaders Like Us: Bayard Rustin? Biography About Civil Rights Leader and Activist Bayard Rustin, an African American Leader...

Bayard Rustin (2021), written by J. P. Miller and illustrated by Markia Jenai, is a Rourke Education Media publication. The press creates texts that align with curriculum standards and primarily promotes to libraries and schools. Bayard Rustin is part of their Leaders Like Us series, which includes biographies of other Black leaders including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Shirley Chisholm, and Rebecca Lee Crumpier. The book opens with activities to promote engagement with the text before and during reading. This is followed by a table of contents, the story, a time line, a glossary, an index, discussion questions, an extension activity, and a final page with information about the author and illustrator.

Bayard Rustin is portrayed throughout as a Black man with a strong sense of justice. The story begins with the March on Washington in August 1963. The march is described as supporting jobs and freedom, presumably for Black Americans. The story then moves backward in time, depicting the roots of Rustin’s activism in his family life. His parents were activists who often entertained Civil Rights leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois.

Throughout the story, injustices African Americans experienced, including segregation, are discussed to contextualize Rustin’s activism as a response to inequality and injustice. Rustin’s behind the scenes role in the Civil Rights Movement is also noted.

Rustin’s sexuality is mentioned in an awkward aside. The author writes: “Some people treated Bayard unfairly because he was gay.” Whereas the ways Rustin was treated unfairly as an African American are discussed, his arrest for “lewd conduct” because of the criminalization of homosexuality is not mentioned. Indeed, his posthumous receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was awarded by President Barack Obama, was only stated in the bac kmatter, not the story proper. The award was accepted by Rustin’s partner, and Obama noted that Rustin would have received it sooner if he wasn’t gay.

This picture book depicts Rustin as a Black man, not a Black gay man, and that is disappointing. Even more, it’s very general. Although there is a sense of time, there is no sense of space. It’s a very abstract biography that won’t help readers understand all that much about Rustin or the Civil Rights Movement. However, the overall structure of the text, especially the learning materials that frame it, are quite useful.

I’m still waiting for the Bayard Rustin children’s picture book biography that we need!

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