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 became coordinator of 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 tenure with BPP, 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 group 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 Rush was elected as a Chicago alderman.
In 1992, Rush was elected as a Democrat 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 the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). He was also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus through 2012.
After winning his 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.
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 2000 as well, Rush co-chaired the welcoming committee for a Chicago memorial service which was held in honor of Richard Criley, a longtime CPUSA activist and a leader of the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights (a CPUSA front group).
In 2001 Rush was ordained as a Baptist minister. “I’ve tried it all,” he said shortly before his ordination. “I’ve tried pan-Africanism. I’ve tried black nationalism. I tried socialism. I tried all the ‘-isms,’ but until I found the Lord did it all come together for me in a way that made sense.” In 2002, Rush became the founder and pastor of the non-denominational Beloved Community Christian Church in Chicago, in a building that was once the site of a Black Panther breakfast program for children.
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.
In May 2005, the House of Representatives passed a measure to “exten[d] its support and solidarity to the organizers [of] and participants [in]” a movement to promote “freedom and democracy for the people of Cuba” who were living under the repressive regime of Fidel Castro. The legislation passed with 392 supporters and only 22 opponents, one of whom was Bobby Rush. Other opponents of the measure included John Conyers, Sam Farr, Maurice Hinchey, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Cynthia McKinney, Charles Rangel, José Serrano, Pete Stark, Tom Udall, Nydia Velázquez, Maxine Waters, and Lynn Woolsey.
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 (Obama’s) 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 they 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 2010, the electricity provider Commonwealth Edison named Rush personally in a lawsuit demanding thousands of dollars in unpaid electrical bills owed by the congressman’s Beloved Community Christian Church. When the company eventually cut off the church’s electricity supply in July 2010 — by which time the cumulative debt had grown to $17,900 — multimillionaire Joseph Stroud, owner of the Illinois-based Rush Oxford Media Group and a longtime benefactor of Rush, paid the money on Rush’s behalf. Stroud already had a long history of having donated money to Rush and his church prior to that. For example:
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.”
While addressing the House of Representatives on the topic of racial profiling on March 28, 2012, 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.
In May 2013, Rush, whose House district included a number of communities plagued by high levels of gang violence, was outraged when Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk requested that $30 million in federal aid be used to aggressively crack down on Chicago’s largest and most destructive gang, the Gangster Disciples. Characterizing Kirk’s approach as “sensational, headline-grabbing, empty, simplistic, [and] unworkable,” Rush said that the money would be better spent on “job creation and job training” programs. Kirk’s idea, Rush added, was an “upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about.”
In July 2016, the Washington Free Beacon revealed numerous significant details about Rush’s past financial dealings:
In March 2018, Cook County Circuit Judge Alexander White ordered the garnishment of more than $2,100 per month from Rush’s annual $174,000 salary, to be applied to the repayment of the more than $1 million he owed on a delinquent $550,000 loan that he and seven other co-signers had taken out many years earlier in order to purchase a church in Englewood, Chicago. The church had stopped making its monthly payments on the loan in November 2011.
In March 2018 as well, the House Ethics Committee announced that Rush had violated government rules for elected officials by accepting the use of free office space at the Lake Meadows Shopping Center in Chicago since 1992, and that he would be required to personally repay more than $14,600 to the rental company in charge of leasing office space at that location. Said the Ethics Committee: “Under the Committee’s precedents and the clear requirements of the Gift Rule and federal law, a Member may not retain, and must return, any gift in excess of what the rules allow. In this case, that means Representative Rush must repay the value of the free office space he received. In doing so, Representative Rush must use personal funds, as the gift was made to Representative Rush personally, and was not meant to be, and did not carry any indicia of, a campaign contribution.”
When the Daily Caller in February 2018 contacted Rush and a number of his fellow Congressional Black Caucus members to ask if they would be willing to publicly denounce the notorious Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan because of his racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, Rush was one of 20 who declined not only to denounce him, but also to issue any comment at all regarding his infamous anti-Semitic, anti-white rhetoric.
In April 2019, Rush lashed out at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) when that organization called for the resignation of Cook County (Illinois) State Attorney Kim Foxx, an African American, for her decision to dismiss all charges against television actor Jussie Smollett, who had recently paid a pair of accomplices to stage a fake hate crime against him. While Foxx interpreted the FOP’s position as an expression of its low regard for “the first African American woman in this role” (State Attorney), Rush said: “The FOP is the sworn enemy of black people, the sworn enemy of black people. The FOP has always taken the position that black people can be shot down in the street by members of the Chicago Police Department, and suffer no consequences.”
In October 2019, Rush condemned President Donald Trump for having recently compared the House’s attempt to impeach him, to a “lynching.” “What the hell is wrong with you?” Rush tweeted at Trump. “Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you[?]” In response to Rush’s question, Hoover Institution Fellow Bruce Thornton wrote:
“Well, numbers are vague for ‘since the inception’ of the U.S., but we do know how many have been lynched since the 1880s, the period that saw Klan membership begin to surge, and violence against blacks increase. The number is about 4700––less than the number of blacks who ‘look like’ Bobby Rush and are murdered every year, mainly by other blacks who also ‘look like’ Bobby Rush. It’s peculiar that the murder victims of long ago can stoke more dudgeon than the vastly larger number of those today, or that sharing superficial physical features give one a proprietary stake in past suffering. Could it be today’s victims don’t have the political utility of victims from history?”
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.”
In a June 2020 interview with Politico, Rush likened Chicago law-enforcement to the Ku Klux Klan: “The number-one cause that prevents police accountability, that promotes police corruption, that protects police lawlessness, is a culprit called the Fraternal Order of Police. They’re the organized guardians of continuous police lawlessness, of police murder and police brutality. The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police is the most rabid, racist body of criminal lawlessness by police in the land. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ku Klux Klan then and the Ku Klux Klan now.”
On May 10, 2021, Rush and two fellow Democratic members of the House of Representatives – Barbara Lee and Steve Cohen – hosted a forum about COINTELPRO, the FBI program that tracked the activities of radical leftist organizations in the 1960s and ’70s. Speakers at the forum heaped praise upon several convicted and incarcerated cop-killers – including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Mutulu Shakur, and H. Rap Brown (a.k.a. Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) – describing them as “political prisoners.”
For an overview of Rush’s voting record on key issues during his congressional career, click here.