Byron Rushing Receives Old South Church’s Open Door Award for Lifelong Work on Racial Justice

Former State Rep. Byron Rushing received the Open Door Award from Old South Church for his lifelong work on racial justice on Tuesday, May 4, and the ceremony will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 9, during Phillis Wheatley Sunday, the church’s annual celebration of the first published African American poetess.

Active in the civil rights movement from an early age, Rushing worked for the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) and the Northern Student Movement before becoming President of Boston’s Museum of African American History.

Rushing went on to serve 36 years in the Massachusetts State House representing Roxbury, the South End, Back Bay and Fenway. In this role, he helped pass the landmark law to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, championed marriage equality, led Massachusetts’ fight against apartheid in South Africa, sponsored the law to end refusal of health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, and worked to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He would become Assistant Majority Leader, the highest-ranking leadership role ever held by a person of color in the Massachusetts State Legislature.

Additionally, for more than three decades, year after year, Rushing introduced legislation to change the state’s flag, motto and logo that demeans Native Americans, which eventually resulted in the Governor’s acquiescence to mandate a committee to propose a revised, less-offensive insignia for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Reached by phone on Monday – a day before he was scheduled to receive the award – Rushing said, “It’s always good to receive an award based on what you’ve done, and it’s always good to receive an award from an institution like Old South Church, which is one of the great progressive churches in New England and probably the country, and has such a positive reputation.”

As an elected official, Rushing was recognized with countless accolades, but unlike the Open Door Award, “about 80 percent of the time,” he said, something was expected of him in return.

Moreover, Rushing said he’s also honored to now be in the distinguished company of other Open Door Award recipients like Larry Kressel of the Boston Living Center.

Of Rushing, Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, the senior minister of Old South Church, wrote: “Byron Rushing is, indeed, a living legend. He has helped to shape and guide the public life of Boston through legislation, moral authority, historical accuracy, and dogged determination. The breadth and depth of his impact on the life of this city is breathtaking.”

Old South Church created the Open Door Award in 2014, according to a press release, and besides Rushing and Kessler, other past award recipients have included Boston Globe Metro Columnist Adrian Walker; Callie Crossley, pioneering broadcast journalist and host of “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley” on WGBH; Sarah-Ann Shaw, Boston’s first African-American female TV reporter; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among others.

The Open Door Award induction ceremony for Byron Rushing will be broadcast during Old South Church’s live-streamed worship service at on Sunday, May 9, during the church’s annual Phillis Wheatley service, which begins at 10 a.m.

A Forum, featuring Rushing, follows on May 9 at 11 a.m. (

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