Bobby Rush, who made the transition from anti-establishment activist as co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party to the political mainstream as a Chicago alderman and then U.S. representative for the South Side and suburbs, announced Tuesday he will be leaving Congress when his term ends in January 2023.
Rush, 75, an Army veteran and ordained Baptist minister who has served in the U.S. House since 1993, made his announcement at Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ, where the funeral for Emmett Till, the Black teenager from Chicago who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Mississippi, was held in 1955.
Rush stressed that stepping down from Congress does not mean he is retiring from public service.
“I will remain on the front lines of the battlefield,” he said.
The Chicago Democrat has dealt with various health issues over the years, notably a battle with salivary gland cancer in 2008, and last week tested positive for COVID-19.
Rush rose to prominence in the 1960s with the Black Power movement and helped found the Illinois Black Panther Party. In Congress, Rush has pushed for the release of FBI files and other documents dealing with the Dec. 4, 1969, slayings of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark at the Panthers’ West Side headquarters in a predawn raid by agents from the FBI, Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
The story of the raid and law enforcement cover-up efforts was the subject of the recent film “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Rather than continue his political activism from the outside, Rush sought to become part of the political establishment. He lost early bids for the Chicago City Council and Congress before winning an aldermanic seat in 1983, when Chicagoans elected Harold Washington as the city’s first Black mayor.
He went on to win election to Congress in 1992 with his only electoral loss occurring in an unsuccessful 1999 challenge to then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
In 2000, Rush put down a primary challenge from a university professor who had been a community activist on the South Side, handing future President Barack Obama his only election defeat.
“He was blinded by his ambition,” Rush told The New York Times as Obama made his successful 2008 run for president. “Obama has never suffered from a lack of believing that he can accomplish whatever it is he decides to try. Obama believes in Obama. And, frankly, that has its good side but it also has its negative side.”
It was during that race that Rush’s 29-year-old son Huey was shot returning from a trip to the grocery store. He died four days later. The death brought out an outpouring of sympathy and support for the congressman and his long-standing push for gun control.
He becomes the 24th House Democrat to announce their retirement.