Like so many gay New Yorkers of his era, a 27-year-old Walter Naegle went to Times Square one afternoon in 1977 and met a man. The tall man with the shock of white in his Afro introduced himself as Bayard Rustin. Black and 37 years Naegle’s senior, Rustin was — to a well-informed circle of activists, historians, and politicos — one of the giants of the 20th-century political organizing. The chance encounter was the beginning of a revolutionary love story, a decade-long relationship that, in many ways, epitomizes our country’s journey from Selma to Stonewall.
Rustin, who died in 1987, is best known as the chief organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. His legacy has had a renaissance in the past few weeks, as the White House announced he will posthumously receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in November, just two months after the march celebrates its 50th anniversary. Walter Naegle will accept the honor on behalf of the love of his life.
“We were very much an ordinary couple. He was an extraordinary person, but our everyday lives were quite ordinary,” Naegle maintains.