Rustin: Are Norm Hill and Eleanor Based on Real People?

In Netflix’s ‘Rustin,’ we see the power of people coming together to accomplish something they are repeatedly told is an insurmountable task. The film focuses on the life story of Bayard Rustin but mainly deals with the organization of the 1963 March on Washington under his leadership. While Rustin helmed the project and tirelessly worked to make it the tremendous success it turned out to be, several people worked behind the scenes to contribute to its success. In the movie, Norm and Eleanor come out as one of the most important people in the organization.

Norm Hill is a Revered Civil Rights Activist

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Now in his 90s, Norman Hill has spent his entire life fighting for what’s right. Born in Summit, New Jersey, he met Bayard Rustin in 1958 at the University of Chicago, where he was pursuing his Master’s. Prior to this, he had served two years in the Army. Meeting Rustin led Hill to organize a youth march, which put him on a path to change the world. He has described Rustin, along with A. Phillip Randolph, as his “civil rights godfathers.”

Hill was a member of the Illinois Socialist Party and served as its executive secretary. In 1960, he led a protest against a segregated White-only beach as the youth leader of the NAACP chapter in Chicago. In 1963, he was appointed staff coordinator for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was 30 years old at the time. In 1961, he married Velma, whom he met when she was a field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, for which he served as national program director. He left the organization in 1964 to work on the Civil Rights Movement to transition “from an emphasis on protests to engaging in political action.”

Hill became the civil rights liaison and legislative representative of the AFL-CIO. He also served as the president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and is now its president emeritus. With his wife, Velma, who is a former Civil Rights and International Affairs Director of the Service Employees International Union, he co-authored ‘Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain.’ Published in 2014, their memoir sheds light on the couple’s work in the civil rights and labor movement.

Eleanor Holmes Norton is a Congresswoman

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A Yale Law School graduate, Eleanor Holmes was one of the key strategists of the Washington March. Explaining her role in the event, she said: “We organized the march in a big brownstone in New York, and one of my jobs was to get people on trains and buses to come. I was doing that to the last moment, so I got to fly back to Washington while everybody else came on trains and buses.”

Following the resounding success of the March, Norton paved a path for herself that led her to become a congresswoman. She has since served as the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and has been elected a trustee on the boards of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Board of Governors of the D.C. Bar Association, along with several other organizations. She is a tenured professor at Georgetown University Yale Law School. She has been awarded the Citation of Merit and the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale. She has 50 honorary degrees to her name.

Eleanor Holmes Norton was elected a congresswoman for the District of Columbia in 1991. She is the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and serves on the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Looking back on her time organizing the March, she calls it a “real inspiration” that proves that one march can accomplish a lot. Comparing the current situation of the country to the 1960s, she said: “Today the country is so polarized, you probably couldn’t do something like that. Here in the Congress, we would do well to see what can be accomplished when people work together.” Now in her 80s, Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to work for the country and community and to make the world a better place.

Read More: Rachelle Horowitz: Rustin Civil Rights Activist is Still Going Strong