Rush, 'godmother' of local civil rights, dies at 94

by W. Winston Skinner

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Josephine Rush

Josephine Rush – described as “the godmother of the Civil Rights movement in Coweta County” – has died.

Rush, 94, died Thursday at her home in Newnan. Her funeral will be today at 1 p.m. at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church near Moreland. Her body will lie in state starting at noon.

Interment will follow in the church cemetery. The viewing was Friday from 6-8 p.m. at Roscoe Jenkins Funeral Home.

“She and her family are longtime Coweta residents,” said retired educator Carole Newell.

Robert Wood, a longtime county commissioner, said Rush was “the godmother of the Civil Rights movement in Coweta County.” Rush, he explained, was in the county throughout the transition from Jim Crow to today.

“There were people who came and went,” said Wood. “She had been there.”

Rush was “the one common thread you could find whenever anything was going on with Civil Rights – African-American people being involved for the right reason,” Wood said. “She was there until the end.”

Wood, who has become an ordained minister in recent years, remembered Rush coming to Greater Mt. Zion AME Church to hear him preach – on her birthday. She told her family they could take her out to celebrate at suppertime.

Rush traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1963 to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. In 2009, she recalled the first time she voted – and her working as a poll worker.

She remembered voting in an era when voters were segregated by race – black voters in one line, white voters in another. Rush was dedicated to working at the polls – even when she was not sure her own vote counted.

"I knew for a fact they were throwing black votes away," she said. "But we didn't give up. We fought and we marched and we prayed through that and we prayed through everything else and now here we are.”

Rush was delighted when Barack Obama was elected president. “I feel like I'm walking all over history,” she said at a 2009 inauguration party sponsored by the local Terry Allen, Jr. chapter of the AmVets Buffalo Soldiers Post 910 at the Clay-Wood Community Center.

"What a day. What a day,” she said at the celebration. “I can't tell you how I feel, and if I tried I'd start crying all over again."

“Mrs. Rush was a great woman,” Newell said. “She worked tirelessly to move the quality of life forward for those in the African-American community.”

Newell acknowledged that Rush’s activism took place in an era “when race relations could have caused our citizens and county to explode.” She noted that instead, “we had a relatively smooth transition from segregation to integration.”

That successful transition “was due, in part, to her efforts,” Newell said.

Newell remembered Rush being an involved parent when her children were in school.

Newell also said Rush “had an ancestor who was interviewed by the Federal Writing Project.” The New Deal program interviewed former slaves. Newell and her drama class dramatized the interview for WSB-TV.

Local resident Don Chapman recalled Rush’s involvement in Come To The Table, an organization that worked for several years to improve understanding among people of different races and backgrounds. “She was an elder statesman. She made every meeting,” he said.

“She had a perspective on things which was really wonderful,” he added. “She was a living history book.”

Chapman reflected on Rush’s upbeat nature. “She was a sweet lady. She wasn’t bitter or angry like I think I would have been,” he said.

“I went to the hospital to see her last week,” Chapman said. The two friends joked and enjoyed each other’s company. “She was a wonderful woman. She was an inspiration,” he said.

Amy Dees, Coweta County Board of Education member, said she was saddened to learn of Rush’s death. “She was amazing,” Dees said.

Rush was a strong believer in King’s philosophy and in the progress made through it. "I see it. I'm living it every day," she said at CTTT meeting in 2009.

"If we want to love each other as sisters and brothers, we're going to have to do it from the core or our own hearts," she said. Talking about the need to see beyond race, Rush said the time had come for "pulling the cover off Dr. King's philosophy."



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