Bayard Rustin was born on March 10, 1910, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, United States. He had been raised to believe that his parents were Julia Davis and Janifer Rustin, when in fact they were his grandparents. He discovered the truth before adolescence, that the woman he thought was his sibling, Florence, was in fact his mother, who'd had Rustin with West Indian immigrant Archie Hopkins. Rustin's grandparents were relatively wealthy local caterers who raised Rustin in a large house. Rustin was influenced by the religious and political beliefs of his grandmother, Julia Rustin. A pacifist, Julia was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), and some of its leaders, such as William Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, sometimes stayed with the family while on their tours of the country.
As a young man, Rustin campaigned against Jim Crow laws in West Chester. One of his school friends later said: "Some of us were ready to give up the fight and accept the status quo, but he never would. He had a strong inner spirit."