- Democratic Member of Congress
- Member of the Progressive Caucus
- In 1968, went AWOL from the U.S. Army
- Co-founder of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party
- In 1969, served six months in jail for an illegal weapons conviction
- Advocates reparations for African Americans
Bobby Rush was born on November 23, 1946 in Albany, Georgia but grew up on Chicago's North Side, where his mother was a Republican precinct captain. While serving in the U.S. Army from 1963-68, Rush became involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1966-68). In 1968 he went AWOL from the military and co-founded the gangster-ridden Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party (BPP), renowned for intimidating local business people into making “donations” to Panther “charities.” One BPP member recruited by Rush was Fred Hampton, who was killed in a December 4, 1969 police raid on Panther headquarters.
Rush, who named his own son “Huey” after Panther leader Huey Newton, became the “defense minister” of BPP-Illinois and said in 1969: “Black people have been on the defensive for all these years. The trend now is not to wait to be attacked. We advocate offensive violence against the power structure.”
In December 1969, law-enforcement authorities raided Rush's apartment and found marijuana, booby traps, unregistered weapons, ammunition, training manuals on explosives, and an assortment of communist writings by Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, and others. Rush eventually served six months in prison for illegal possession of firearms. Reflecting, years later, on his BPP tenure, he explained: "We were reacting to police brutality, to the historical relationship between African-Americans and recalcitrant racist whites. We needed to arm ourselves."
During the late '60s and early '70s, Rush was a sponsor of the GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee, a front for the Socialist Workers Party. One of his closest advisors at the time was the veteran Communist Party USA (CPUSA) member David Canter, who also mentored a young David Axelrod.
Rush went on to work as a medical clinic director during the early '70s and earned a BA in liberal arts from Roosevelt University in 1973. He left the Panthers in 1974, ran unsuccessfully for Chicago city alderman that same year, lost a race for Illinois state senator in 1977, and worked as an insurance agent from 1978-83. In 1983 he was elected as a Chicago alderman.
In 1992 Rush, a Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Congress, representing the majority-black First District of Illinois. He has held that seat ever since, and is a member of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
After winning a seat in Congress, Rush earned an MA in political science from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1994, and an MA in theological studies from McCormick Seminary four years later.
In September 1997 Rush was the guest speaker at a fundraiser to support the CPUSA newspaper, People's Weekly World.
In 1999 Rush ran for mayor of Chicago but lost by a wide margin to the incumbent, Richard M. Daley. Notably, Rush's campaign was supported by the Democratic Socialists of America.
Rush’s most noteworthy congressional race took place in 2000, when he defeated then-state senator Barack Obama in the Democratic primary by a 61-to-30% margin. During the campaign, Rush said: “Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it.”
In 2001 Rush was ordained as a Baptist minister. “I've tried everything," he said shortly before his ordination. “I've tried black nationalism. I've tried socialism. I've tried all of it. But, to me, … this is the absolute pinnacle." Rush subsequently opened a church on Chicago's South Side and used money from his campaign war chest to fund it.
In 2002 Rush co-sponsored a People's Weekly World banquet in Chicago, which honored a number of communists including longtime CPUSA member Ishmael Flory.
Though Rush is a close friend of both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, he supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries and in the ensuing general election. After Obama won the White House that year, Rush stated that it would be “a national disgrace” to not have his vacated Senate seat filled by an African American.
In April 2009, Rush was part of a delegation of seven Congressional Black Caucus members—one of whom was Barbara Lee—who traveled to Havana to meet with former Cuban president Fidel Castro and his successor, Raul Castro. After the meeting, Rush and his cohorts praised the Castros as warm and hospitable hosts and called for an end to America’s longstanding ban on travel to Cuba. Of his conversation with Fidel Castro, Rush said: “It was almost like listening to an old friend…. In my household, I told Castro, he is known as the ultimate survivor.” Rush also marveled at Raul Castro's “keen sense of humor, his sense of history and his basic human qualities.”
In November 2010, Rush and 15 other congressional Democrats held friendly meetings—either personally or through their respective staffers—with supporters of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Fight Back, a Marxist-Leninist group that condemned “the FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas of people doing international solidarity work and anti-war organizing.”
On March 28, 2012, while addressing the House of Representatives on the topic of racial profiling, Rush—in homage to the late Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teenager who had been shot and killed by a “white Hispanic” man in a highly publicized altercation a month earlier—wore a hooded sweatshirt similar to the one worn by Martin on the night of his death. Because the rules of Congress prohibit the wearing of hats or head coverings on the House floor, Rush was called out of order and escorted from the chamber.
Rush is among the House of Representatives' strongest supporters of slavery-reparations payments for African Americans. “The future of race relations will be determined by reparations for slavery,” he once declared.
Also among the staunchest congressional backers of gun control, Rush has proposed legislation that would regulate the sale and purchase of bullets. “Ultimately, I would like to see the manufacture and possession of handguns banned,” said Rush, “… that's the endgame.”
For an overview of Rush's voting record on key issues during his congressional career, click here.
For additional information on Bobby Rush, click here.