During the Civil Rights Movement, equality among races was fought for mostly in the South, but also in the North. One of those who decided to join the cause was Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing.
“I think that it’s important understand there were a lot of leaders during the Civil Rights Movement,” said Rushing. He goes on to say that Martin Luther King had the charisma and strategic know-how to get people’s attention. “He had the ability to catch the attention of white people.”
Rushing was born in New York and moved to Syracuse with his parents. His father was a janitor and his mother worked as a seamstress. He attended high school and then moved to Boston in order to attend college at Harvard University. However, he postponed his studies in his junior year in order to join the Civil Rights Movement. He then went back to his hometown of Syracuse and became part of the Congress of Racial Equality, where he helped people find jobs and record police brutality.
“People didn’t react to this because they had individual experiences, they got involved in this work because they realized these were whole groups of people being discriminated against,” said Rushing.
When he moved to Boston in 1964, he became a community organizer in order to help those without housing find places they could afford.
“It included working with problems that black people and poor people saw in their community and helping them through formal and informal organizations,” said Rushing.
An example he gives is the Madison Park Development Corporation in Roxbury, which was developed in 1966. According to Rushing, it has over 300 units of affordable housing.
“It was one of the first places in Boston where residents were able to develop housing for themselves,” said Rushing.
Rushing was not only involved in the Civil Rights Movement, he was also involved in the Movement for Peace and was against the Vietnam War. He became a conscientious objector and instead of doing military service, he worked as an orderly at Rochester General Hospital in New York between 1967 and 1969.
He then moved back to Boston and was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1982, where he is known to cover the South End.
“My priorities then were civil and human rights and to try to use the government as much as possible to help people who had been discriminated against for racial or civil reasons,” said Rushing.
During his career he has helped to sponsor the gay rights bill in Massachusetts and has worked hard to end discrimination against those with different sexual orientations.
“Certainly in the area of civil rights things have changed,” said Rushing.
He says that groups in Massachusetts are not discriminated against as much as they were 30 years ago. However, he says it is ongoing work and that in the area of affordable housing, there are both successes and more work to be done.
“What we were not able to do was to get more of the housing built,” said Rushing. But he admits that “changing attitudes on how we house people is a great success.”