Bayard Rustin was the organizing genius without whom the March on Washington never would have happened. But he's also been largely erased from America's collective memory until this year, when Obama decided to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Why was he forgotten? Mainly because he was an out gay man in the 1960s - not a recipe for national acclaim in those decades.
Rustin's role in the civil rights movement can hardly be overstated. He was a pacifist who influenced Martin Luther King to pursue the strategy of non-violence that's been given credit for the civil rights movement's success. He organized one of the first Freedom Rides and refused to give up his seat on a segregated bus over a decade before Rosa Parks. In the 1980s he became a powerful advocate for gay rights.
And to make his achievements more extraordinary, he did it all as a gay black man who was imprisoned for homosexuality in 1953. "Being a gay black Quaker in 1950s America" means that "pretty much every interaction you have with mainstream culture is going to involve people passive-aggressively trying to murder you, as well as just straight-up aggressively trying to murder you," writes Cracked.com on why Rustin is a "badass."
Segregationist senator Strom Thurmond once denounced Rustin as a "communist, draft-dodger and homosexual," and entered in the congressional record a photo of Rustin talking to King while King was taking a bath.
At the 1963 march in DC Rustin read the Demands of the March to the crowd - the 10 points that the marchers were fighting for, including a minimum wage and a federal jobs program for whites as well as blacks.
In 2002 Rustin became a gay rights icon after he was the focus of the documentary Brother Outsider. The Medal of Freedom will be given posthumously to Rustin's gay partner, since Rustin died in 1987.