Happy birthday to St. Patrick and saintly Bayard Rustin

Ken Sehested

Invocation. “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (traditional chain gang song),” One Voice Mixed Chorus in remembrance of Bayard Rustin, the least-known-most-important civil rights leader.

§  §  §

I was delighted today that the children’s storyteller in our worship service told (with costumed and animated assistance of our teens) of both St. Patrick and Bayard Rustin on the occasion of their shared birth anniversary

Patrick gets all the public attention every year on this date. Even in my small West Texas town, you got pinched at school if you didn’t have some item of green attire. Though there was no drunken revelry, since Scurry County was “dry.”

St. Patrick (5th century CE) wasn’t Irish, didn’t expel snakes from Ireland, has no “miracle” attributed to him (which now is required for sainthood), and didn’t write the poem “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” Ironically, though, his fame was sufficiently established in his lifetime that different groups of his followers fought for custody of his body. Relatively little is known for certain about his life, but this much is documented: He was likely the first early church leaders to speak out against the abuse of women.

What is rarely told about Irish history, though, occurred centuries later. The “Great [Potato] Famine” in Ireland (1845-1852) claimed the lives of a million people and prompted the migration of another million, reducing the country’s population by nearly 25%.

And it wasn’t merely a natural disaster—it was also a very human one; indeed, one of modern history’s most cruel political escapades. During the famine, British landowners in Ireland exported £17 million worth of foodstuffs of all sort. The Irish starved, or fled to other countries, because of British-sponsored colonial choices. (“Free market” and all that.) The potato blight (which happened across Europe) was an historic disaster; but what made the period catastrophic were very human financial policies.

For more on that, see Bill Bigelow’s The Real Irish-American Story Not Taught in Schools.”

§  §  §

Bayard Rustin, born on 17 March 1912, is among the least well-known key leaders of the modern US Civil Rights Movement. Mostly because he was an out gay Black man.

It didn’t help that he was a pacifist—before, during and after World War II—and served 28 months in a federal penitentiary, beginning in 1943, for his refusal of military service.

It also didn’t help that for a few years, before Joseph Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union, Rustin was a member of the Communist Party in the US. He never looked back on that affiliation; in fact, he later became an outspoken critic of Soviet aggression. But he always considered himself a socialist.

At various times Rustin (a lifelong Quaker) was a brilliant strategic planner for the American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Congress on Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the War Resisters’ League. Many would say his signature accomplishment was as the organizing strategist for the 1963 March on Washington.

Rustin also recorded a number of Negro spirituals, including “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

Here are some media sources on Rustin’s life for more information:

“I remembered Bayard Rustin, a conscientious objector who had served time in prison during the Second World War and then became a leader in the civil rights movement, saying that being a pacifist is one-tenth conscientious objection and nine-tenths working to do away with the things that make for war. —David Hartsough with Joyce Hollyday, Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist

“My activism did not spring from my being gay, or for that matter, from my being black. Rather it is rooted, fundamentally, in my Quaker upbringing and the values that were instilled in me by my grandparents who reared me.” —Bayard Rustin, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters, edited by Michael G. Long

§  §  §

For more than a decade my wife played the song below first thing after entering her chaplain’s office at the Marion Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison for me. She did so to center herself, metaphorically putting on “the whole armor of God” in preparation for the days demeaning behavior, conflict, and occasional violence.

Benediction. “I arise today / Through God’s strength to pilot me / God’s eye to look before me / God’s wisdom to guide me / God’s way to lie before me / God’s shield to protect me / From all who shall wish me ill / Afar and anear / Alone and in a multitude / Against every cruel / Merciless power / That may oppose my body and soul.” —“The Deer’s Cry,” (aka “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”), Rita Connolly, with the Curtlestown Choir

 §  §  §

The approach Palm Sunday-Holy Week-Easter season is a good time to ask you to provide financial support for prayerandpolitiks.org. Voluntary gifts from readers are our only source of budget support. We earn about $166.6666667 per month for a 3/4ths time job as author, editor, designer, IT support, and bookkeeper. (Though it is odd, though, that many of the wealthiest companies in the US actually get a tax rebate from the IRS.)

Thanks to our talented guest artist, Kenn Comptom—creator many years ago of prayerandpolitiks’ guardian angel—Gabriel has gotten a needed much needed makeover. (See above.) Gabriel advised me to raise funds by sponsoring a contest with readers suggesting a last name for him. I had to tell him that . . . well . . . we just don’t do that sort of thing.

“OK THEN!” he said, his pride a little stung, “JUST TELL’EM ‘TIS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE.” So there it is. Your cards and letters are also much appreciated.

This link has instructed on various ways to do this.

#  #  #