Living History: From the Black Panthers to Congress, Meet Bobby L. Rush

Congressman Bobby L. Rush has represented the 1st District of Illinois for over two decades. At almost 70, he has led a remarkable life full of activism and public service. Check out eight must know facts about this living legend.

Congressman Bobby L. Rush has represented the 1st District of Illinois for over two decades.  At almost 70, he has led a remarkable life full of activism and public service.  Check out eight must know facts about this living legend:

1. He co-founded the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968.

While in the military and stationed in Chicago, Rush became a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  He participated in civil disobedience demonstrations in the South and upon his return to Chicago, he co-founded the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panthers at the request of Stokely Carmichael who was one of his mentors in SNCC.  One of Rush’s most notable recruits to the Panthers was Fred Hampton who at the time was the head of the Youth Division of the NAACP.  Hampton went on to become an influential activist and one of the most famous Black Panthers.  He was murdered by Chicago police during a raid on his apartment on December 4, 1969.

2. He helped develop the nation’s first mass testing program for sickle cell anemia.

When Mr. Rush was Defense Minister for the Illinois Black Panther Party, he also administered the Panther Party’s Free Breakfast Program for Children and ran a free medical clinic in Chicago.  One of the initiatives created by the clinic was a massive testing program for sickle cell anemia which was the the first of its kind in the United States.  Through these efforts, the organization also raised public awareness of sickle cell anemia’s impact on Black citizens in Chicago.

3. He is a military veteran.

In 1963, Mr. Rush enlisted in the United States Army directly out of high school and served in the Army until 1968 when he was honorably discharged.  Throughout his political career, he has sponsored and supported bills that would aid veterans and their families.

4. He lost a son to gun violence.

On October 18, 1999, Huey Rich, the son of Bobby L. Rush who was named after Huey P. Newton, was shot and killed as he was walking to his apartment in Chicago.  He was murdered by two men in an armed robbery.  Mr. Rush has six other children with his wife Carolyn.

5. He was the last person to beat Barack Obama in an election.

During the 2000 Democratic Primary, Rush was challenged by a young State Senator named Barack Obama.  As an incumbent, Rush had a clear advantage and won the contest by over 80% of the vote.  Eight years later, he endorsed that same young State Senator for President of the United States in 2008.

6. In honor of Trayvon Martin, he spoke before the House of Representatives while wearing a hoodie.

On Wednesday, March 28, 2012, one month after the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin, while speaking before the House of Representatives, Rush took off his suit jacket, pulled a gray hoodie on over his head and put on sunglasses stating, “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.” The teen was wearing a hoodie when we was murdered by George Zimmerman.  Rush went on to speak out against racial profiling and discrimination.  The House forbids its members from wearing hats, and Rush was called out of order and ultimately escorted from the hall. According to CNN, Rush said the purpose of putting on the hoodie was to send a message to young people, “to stand their ground, stand up and don’t stand down.”

7. He is a cancer survivor.

In 2008, Mr. Rush was diagnosed with a very rare form of salivary gland cancer.  A deep tumor was removed from his jaw and he went through months of a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.  When Mr. Rush was found to be cancer free, he went through speech and physical therapy.  His cancer scare prompted him to push for universal healthcare for all Americans.

8. He routinely wins reelection by over 70% of the vote.

Mr. Rush’s long history in Chicago of activism and public service has made him incredibly popular.  The predominately African American electorate consistently turns out for him every two years to re-elect him.  He has won each general election against Republican challengers from 1992 through 2014 with at least 73% of the vote going in his favor.


Information attained from:

“Rush, Bobby L.”

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,

John Mccormick, “A Father’s Anguished Journey”, Newsweek, published November 28, 1999,

Janny Scott, “In 2000, a Streetwise Veteran Schooled a Bold Young Obama”, New York Times,

Deirdre Walsh, “Lawmaker wearing hoodie removed from House floor”,



About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.