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Civil Rights Icon Bayard Rustin

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Rustin: The Upcoming Film Honoring a Civil Rights Icon


Hollywood has finally made a film about the life of Bayard Rustin, the brilliant architect of the historic 1963 March on Washington. The film titled Rustin will be in select theatres on November 3, 2023, and stream on Netflix on November 17, 2023. Bayard Rustin is regarded as one of the most brilliant organizers in the annals of America’s social movements and was one of the towering figures of the Civil Rights era. Early movie reviews have been very favorable. Colman Domingo portrays Bayard Rustin, and several critics have already touted the movie as an early favorite for Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture award and Best Actor. The movie offers an authentic view of his critical role in organizing the March on Washington, which was honored on a US postage stamp issued on August 23, 2013.

The US Postal Service released a limited-edition stamp honoring the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. This stamp was the last of three stamps issued in 2013 that commemorated three major events in the struggle for civil rights and racial equality in American society.  The first stamp in this series, issued on January 1, 2013, marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the second forever stamp, issued on February 1, 2013, honored Rosa Parks on the 100th anniversary of her birth in February.

While history has long acknowledged Bayard Rustin's achievements, particularly compared to his contemporaries who participated in the March on Washington event, he has never been honored on a US postage stamp.

ESPER, as the nation’s leading stamp society focusing on Black philately, has long supported the issuance of a stamp honoring Rustin’s accomplishments. This topic has been addressed in at least two brief articles included in the January 2014 and October 2015 editions of the Reflections Newsletter. The January 2014 article even offered suggestions to support the issuance of a Rustin stamp.

I attended the first-day ceremony when the March on Washington stamp was issued because I wanted John Lewis to sign some philatelic items and hear his reflections on the March on Washington event. He spoke of Rustin’s achievement in organizing the march during his presentation. I used his presentation to develop a cover honoring Rustin’s legacy. This cover took four years to complete due to the postmarks. I had Warren Reed of Wild Horse Cachets prepare a hand-designed cover for me in 2014 to honor Rustin’s accomplishments in the civil rights struggle and to identify some of his contemporaries honored on US postage stamps.

As mentioned in the October 2015 newsletter, the lovely hand-painted hand-designed cover recognizes Rustin’s role as the architect of the march. The cover took four years to complete, involving three related first-day postmarks used in the issuance of civil rights-related stamps and included stamps that honored some of Rustin’s contemporaries, including A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Witney Young, who attended the March on Washington and who depended on Rustin to organize the event. Rosa Parks also attended the march. 

With the film's release in November, perhaps the Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee will finally recognize Rustin’s accomplishment and honor the architect of the March on Washington with his own stamp in the pantheon of American Philately.

By Calvin Mitchell

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