Select Video Clip...
Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
BOND: Congressman Rush, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.
RUSH: Thank you.
BOND: I want to begin with some questions about the Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka in 1954. You were eight years old.
RUSH: Eight years old.
BOND: I'm sure this is not something that you could remember occurring at the time, but if I'm not mistaken, you were attending an integrated school.
RUSH: I was attending an integrated school on the near north side in Chicago.
BOND: Benjamin Franklin Elementary.
RUSH: Yes, absolutely.
BOND: When you became aware that the Supreme Court had said that children, black and white children, would have to go to school together, did you have any idea of what this might mean, what it could mean?
RUSH: No, not really, because the school that I had been at was an integrated school in the city of Chicago. However, I began to reflect back on my earlier, you know, kindergarten and first grade and maybe even up to the second grade when I was in Albany, Georgia. I was born in Albany, Georgia, and when I heard about it, I thought that, well, there was something about that school — you know, I never had any white students in my classrooms in kindergarten. You know, at the time, you might remember, Dr. Hazard was the president of Albany State. And my first grade school, my kindergarten classes were held on the campus of Albany State. But it was all black. As it was occurring, I didn't know anything about it. It didn't really penetrate my consciousness, but when that decision was made and when I heard the adults in my life begin to discuss it, then it kind of made me reflect back on it, although at the time I was in an integrated school in the city of Chicago.
BOND: From today's perspective — today, 2005 — looking back, what has it turned out to mean?
RUSH: Well, really it's turned out to mean that we — that the promise was much clearer, that this nation really understood and that education for all was an inalienable right, that we all had an opportunity to be educated. That was the promise. You know, even today, though, Julian, you know, equality in education — we're still fighting the same kind of systemic wars that we were fighting. Maybe it's not segregation by race now, but it's certainly segregation by class now. In my city, we have a real serious problem in terms of the inequality for the funding of public education. And so — whereas there was a different mindset, we went to a certain point, we saluted the point, there was a victory for us — it was really somewhat, as I look back on it, not a shallow victory, but not a victory that gave us full rights and full equality for African Americans.
BOND: What effect do you think it had on your life personally? You said earlier, "I really blossomed at Franklin Elementary." You told the Tribune in 2003, and I wonder if that was because it was an integrated school with greater opportunities or what — ?
RUSH: Well, I think it was more — it was the relationship that I had with my teachers, and they encouraged me a lot, and I think that's what I meant when I talked about it. It was not so much the systemic but the personal kind of inspiration that I got from my teachers, and you know, I'm a person who — most of us are — we're people who love to read. I love to study and I love to do those kind of things. And so to have teachers who would not only award you for it, but help really encourage you and give you the kind of positive feedback — that was what was important to me.
BOND: I've heard you talk about a teacher, Marian Smith. What did she do?
RUSH: Oh, this is the exact — a real good example of what I'm talking about. Miss Smith would encourage me to read. I was a transplant from Albany, Georgia into this urban center called Chicago, into this large school, and I really had a — it was a foreign culture to me to a great extent, but she saw in me this drive to succeed, the drive to read, and she — in spite of my drawbacks, she would just encourage me and I remember her telling my mother and I won't ever forget it. She said, "This boy loves to read so much." And my mother said, "Yeah, he loves to read. Sometimes he'll go to the bathroom. He'll have a box of detergent. He'll just start reading that." Because I just had this enormous love for books and being able to read, so it was that kind of encouragement and in spite of some of the — you know, I was a country boy with a southern slang in my voice, and sometimes would be the object of scorn and ridicule from some of my co-students, but Miss Smith just saw something in me and I think she really helped me to make a decision that in spite of attitudes and opinions, you should strive to be the best that you can be. You should strive to understand who you are and move forward and, frankly, that made such a big difference in my life. I didn't get discouraged.
BOND: What about other adult figures? I read about Alex Outerbridge, Scout leader.
RUSH: Oh, yeah. He was a magnificent man. You know, my — I didn't have a father in the house and so my mother, one of the first things that she did when we moved from south to north was enroll us or install us in the Boy Scouts, and Alex Outerbridge was my Boy Scout leader and he took time with us. We went to different places with him. Chicago has a parade called Black Billiken Parade, and every year literally hundreds of thousands of people gather along King Drive. It used to be South Park Avenue. It's one of the biggest black parades in the country, the Black Billiken Parade, and Mr. Outerbridge — I remember him playing a silver bugle in that parade and that was the first time I'd seen that many people at one time, and marching down King Drive with my Boy Scout uniform and playing in the drum and bugle corps. I never will forget that. He took me on my first camping trip, our troop on our first camping trip, so he, you know, again, through that process, I learned to have confidence in myself, learned how to set goals. I learned how to meet those goals, and I wanted to achieve and I wanted to do things. I wanted to excel, and I picked that up also through the Boy Scouts.
BOND: And you went in the service.
RUSH: I went in the service.
BOND: And you had an encounter with a racist sergeant, Sergeant — ?
RUSH: No, it was battery commander, Lieutenant Rogers. He was a Southern guy from Alabama, and this was during the nascent days of the civil rights movement, and then we were — and I began my consciousness, which was really developed at Franklin, you know, my racial consciousness began to develop at Franklin. And so this guy was someone who used every opportunity to try to suppress my efforts to, you know, be a black man. He really wanted to — he went out after the blacks in the troop there in the battery, and so I rebelled against him, you know, and we clashed a lot and I thought that he was a racist, but he would go out of his way. I mean, I became a discipline problem for the service. I had Article 15s, almost to the point of a court-martial, but somehow the Lord prevailed and I wasn't court-martialed. I was honorably discharged from the service, so — but Lieutenant Rogers was somebody who stands out in my mind as probably being one of the most vehement racists that I've known.
BOND: Do you think it's fair to say that in a negative way he had a positive influence on you?
RUSH: Oh, absolutely.
BOND: That you tried to overcome.
RUSH: Oh, absolutely. You know, iron sharpens iron, that's a proverb in the Bible and so I, yeah, he helped build character because he forced me to stand up for what I believed in and not to retreat from it. And I mean, I even got to a point where we had this — I mean, this was during the beginning of the Black Power movement and so he would — I got to a point where I was in such a state of rebellion against him I would wear Black Power buttons on my Army uniform, you know, and at that time you couldn't have a moustache and, man, I would come to the base with a moustache and everything, man, so it got to be a real thing between he and I. He would come at me and I would come right back at him in certain ways.
BOND: Go back for a minute to Franklin. How did your race consciousness become formed there?
RUSH: I think primarily through the television. I mean, I saw you guys, I saw Doc, so —
BOND: So it was the age, not the school?
RUSH: It was the age for the most part. I mean, you never saw black people marching and fighting for their rights and standing up against the power forces and that stuff kind of, you know, mesmerized me, man, when I saw all that was going on, and so I just got kind of caught up in the times and it created — I remember, you know, having this very serious, energetic, intense argument with a friend of mine, because I was defending Dr. King and he was saying how the leader of the blacks shouldn't be doing this kind of stuff and we were both kind of fairly young and we were playing basketball in the back yard, man, but we put that basketball down and started discussing things, and we didn't get into fisticuffs or anything like, but I never will forget — his name was Winston and it turned out that he was — ultimately, he became a real nationalist. But the fact is that I remember that intense battle because at that time whatever was inside came out and I knew profoundly that I was an advocate for black people at that point in time.
BOND: Now, what draws you to go to Oakland to see Huey Newton? What were you going through then mentally?
RUSH: Oh, we were — it wasn't something that was really thought out. I was a part of SNCC in the Chicago Chapter. Okay. Stokely was, right — had been the leader or the chairman of SNCC and Stokely left SNCC because of the Black Power thing, and he had gone to Oakland to become a member of the Black Panther Party. He was on the Central Committee. Well, we were kind of like Stokely's followers, you know what I mean? We loved Stokely, and Stokely asked us, because he was getting ready to join the Black Panther Party, he wanted us to join along with him so that he would have a base. So Bob Brown and I and some others joined the Black Panther Party. And I was asked to go to Oakland to get the authorization of the national Black Panther Party chapter for Chicago, and I went out and talked to David Hilliard and Bobby Seale and Eldridge [Cleaver] and Don [Donald] Cox and basically — and Bobby said, "We already have a chapter of the Black Panther Party in Chicago."
Well, I knew who those guys were. They were perpetrating themselves as Black Panthers, and I knew that they weren't really serious. They weren't movement — the movement wasn't in their heart. They was something like some hustlers, you know, and so they said, "Well, we'll give you some buttons and we'll give you a couple of papers. You can go back and sell the papers and have some buttons." So we went back, and I wasn't deterred at all. I went and got an alderman in the City Council, Sammy Rayner.
RUSH: Sammy rented an office for us, and we got a telephone, and we start ordering papers from Oakland. Still not recognized as an official chapter. And around this time, December 1968, I got a call from David Hilliard saying that two members of the Black Panther Party who had been traveling, I think, from New York to California — they had a little gentleman's discussion, an argument or a debate, really, about whether or not the distance from New York to Oakland was the same as it would be from Oakland to Cuba and in their naivete, they asked the stewardess. You know, this was the height of the time when all these hijackings to Cuba, of planes to Cuba, and so what happened was she freaked and she called the pilot and they landed in Chicago, so they handcuffed these guys, put them in jail, and the only number that they had, that Oakland had for anybody, was my number and the number at the Panther headquarters, because we were smart enough to open up an office, so that's how we became officially recognized as an official chapter —
BOND: I see, I see.
RUSH: — out of necessity.
BOND: Let me back up a little bit to your time in SNCC, and you mentioned Stokely Carmichael and Bob Brown. What was the relationship between these figures and you? I mean, you're the little younger guy. What was the relationship?
RUSH: Well, Bob and I —
BOND: I'm thinking of a mentorship relationship.
RUSH: Yeah, Bob Brown was a brilliant young man, as you know. And Bob became like a — he was my mentor. He was my father in the civil rights movement. He really kind of took me under his wings. I think part of it was because I wouldn't let him leave me. I wouldn't let him — I decided that I was going to be with him and also because of the fact that Bob was the consummate civil rights person. He didn't have nothing but the clothes on his back, okay, didn't know where he was going to get the next meal from and because I was still in the service at the time, I did have a family and I had a place to stay and a regular meal, so Bob would just find himself at my house a lot. And then, ultimately, after I got out of the service, I became a vagabond like him so we started going around to other folks but we became — got this close kinship, this close kinship.
I remember going to my first political convention. There was a CORE convention in Columbus, Ohio, and that was the convention where Roy Innis ultimately took over CORE, but that was my first political convention, and I was just wild-eyed and, man, it was just — you know, I found my niche. I found the place because I was so excited about what was going on. But Bob and I have developed a very, very close relationship and Bob and I, after Stokely became a member of the Panther Party, Bob and I organized a chapter there, and we recruited Fred Hampton into the chapter. Bob didn't want an official title. That's the way he was. He liked to be in the background, but Fred Hampton became the Deputy Chairman. I became the Deputy Minister of Defense, and, you know, that's where we started out.
BOND: Before we talk about Fred, back a little, whatever happened to Monroe Sharpe? Do you remember Monroe Sharpe? The name just came into my head.
RUSH: Yeah, I remember Monroe. Monroe Sharpe, I think he's still around. I haven't seen him in years.
BOND: But he was active in the SNCC apparatus.
RUSH: Yeah, as a matter of fact, Monroe was the head of SNCC at the time and it was all Monroe Sharpe and there were some others. Lawrence Landry and all of them were around.
BOND: Sure. Yeah, those are probably their names.
BOND: Fast forward then to Bobby Rush — you're Bobby Rush — to Fred Hampton. I'm sorry.
RUSH: That's all right.
BOND: To Fred Hampton, and Fred Hampton gets, we know now, assassinated by the Chicago police. But at the first, they report it as a shoot-out —
BOND: — and he's the aggressor and they're just defending themselves. How do you look at it from the very first?
RUSH: Well, I'll tell you. We — I mean, I knew instinctively that Fred had been killed, and I knew that Fred had been — there was no way that he would have gone down without taking some people down with him. He was just that type of person, one of the most courageous individuals, even as a young man. Fred was twenty-one when he was killed. Fred had so many gifts, so talented, and he was very, very courageous. I remember, you know, Fred would just, would not take too much off anybody, but he was a sensitive person. He really fought for the underdog, for the little people, so I knew instinctively that when the police came in that apartment, that they killed Fred and that they used some kind of — something to immobilize him.
That morning was a morning that, you know, of course, is etched in my spirit and in my mind. It was about 4:30, I got a call that there was a shootout at Fred's house and that the police had cordoned off the block that Fred lived on. And so I had someone to pick me up and we went to a house of a Panther that lived in the next block, and we were down in the basement, and we turned the radio on because we couldn't go out and they kept us informed through the radio and I heard that he was killed at about 6:30 that morning. They announced that he had been killed, and so at that point, you know, we, after — this was still — darkness was out.
And then when the daylight came, we understood that the police had left. And so we went to the apartment. And I guess, you know, they left because they were afraid to be in that neighborhood too long. They didn't know what the response was going to be, but in their haste to get out, they left the apartment open. And so by leaving the apartment open, that gave us an opportunity to let people in to see.
BOND: I remember seeing the little sticks stuck in the bullet holes on the outside of the door, and I thought to myself, "There's no better way of showing exactly what happened here." I mean, it was just incredible.
RUSH: Right. Sure. Yeah, Julian, we had I guess it was twenty-five thousand people to go through that apartment in a matter of two weeks or so and we actually had tours. We had Panthers showing people how the bullets came in and showing people how the police, the couple of bullets were shot out, but everything that they — their whole case — everything that they said turned out to be lies. I remember an example in the Chicago Tribune a day or two, because it became real controversial between the state's attorney and the Panther Party.
RUSH: Edward V. Hanrahan. And Hanrahan made — well, they went on television, they did this big reenactment of what he said took place and how the Panthers, you know, came and charged and these vicious Panthers and he talked about at the rear door this is evidence of where the Panthers were. It looked like it was holes, but I went back there and looked at that back door and what they had called holes was nothing but nail heads, you know, and I pointed this out. The Tribune had this big expose about "this shows that the Panthers were shooting back at the police" and things. And it was nothing but nail heads, so their story just totally collapsed on their frantic trying to justify what they had done. But Fred Hampton was killed in cold blood, and we found out later that he had been drugged, that the pathologist said that he had as much Seconal in him as it would take to kill an elephant.
RUSH: Yeah, so they had totally immobilized him, and then we found out later that there was an informant, William O'Neal, who had conspired with them to kill Fred.
BOND: Now, in addition to people like Fred Hampton and Stokely Carmichael and Bob Brown, there'd been other figures in your life that you've associated with and who played kind of a mentor role. I think of Huey Newton.
BOND: What was the relationship with Huey?
RUSH: Well, Huey — I'll tell you, Huey — again, it goes back to, I guess you would call it academic leanings or intellectual leanings or my yearn to learn. And Huey, I was so impressed with Huey, because Huey was really a street person, but he was also a real intellectual. I mean, here he ultimately got his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago [sic, California] at Santa Clara [sic, Santa Cruz], a Ph.D. in philosophy, but Huey was always driving us to read different kinds of, really, some extraordinary books and think a certain way. And because we believed in theory and practice, so we had to have that theory down pat, you know, just as well as you had the practice down pat. And so I view Huey as being an inspiration primarily because of his intellectual drive.
I mean, Huey had us reading Immanuel Kant. He had us reading Kierkegaard. He had us reading Nietzsche. He had us reading, you know, of course, Mao and Stalin and Trotsky and, I mean, but Huey had us reading — I mean, he had us getting into a lot of dialectical materialism, and so we weren't just a bunch of empty guns out there. He had us really studying theory and things like that, and I remember I was most impressed with Huey in this instance. I remember back in, I believe it was '71 or '72, I accompanied him, along with a couple of other Panthers, to Yale University. And Huey was had a colloquy with — oh, he was a person who — he was with — oh, it was a philosopher. He was a childhood — he was a philosopher of development. What — ? Okay, his name will come back to me, but Huey had a colloquy with this guy, and it was just amazing, seeing him in discussions with this guy who was a preeminent philosopher and a follower of Freud. Oh man, I just — I can't remember his name, but anyway, I was so impressed with Huey because of — it was just amazing to see this young man, who was a street guy, with a philosopher, having those kind of discussions with him.
BOND: Now, later you become aligned with Harold Washington.
RUSH: Harold Washington.
BOND: What was it about Harold Washington that attracted you and what did, if anything, what did you learn from Harold Washington?
RUSH: Same thing. I mean, you're asking these questions and for the most part, it's the same thing. It's having your game together in terms of your thought processes, your philosophy, your study, you know, being smart and also putting that into practice. Harold Washington was a person who also loved to read. Okay. He was, as you know, very, very articulate, but he also was — Harold has a commonness. He was able to get —
BOND: Yes. A common touch.
RUSH: Yeah, had a common touch and so that was the same thing. That's the same thing that attracted me to Huey, that attracted me to Harold, and attracted me to Fred and to others, and attracted me to you, too. Yes, absolutely, yes.
BOND: Thank you. I went to a party last night for Heather Booth, and people talked a great deal about if Harold had been there, he would've said, "Heather is the most loquacious, stupendous," and used a series of big words.
RUSH: Oh yes, oh yes, absolutely.
BOND: And people said, "And you would've understood what he meant, too."
RUSH: Yes, absolutely. Well, sometimes you didn't understand. Sometimes he would drive you to a dictionary.
BOND: Now, you get into city politics in Chicago, become an alderman. What led you to that? I mean, think about it. You're in the Black Panther Party, and then skip forward, you're an alderman. To many people, that's a radical shift.
RUSH: It's a transformation. Even in the Panther Party, Huey told us to be involved in electoral politics. We were mostly supporting candidates, but if you remember, back in 1972 or even back in 1968, Eldridge Cleaver, who was a member of the Panther Party, ran for vice president on the Peace and Freedom Party.
BOND: Peace and Freedom Party, right.
RUSH: And so we were always on the edge of electoral politics. Bobby Seale in 1972 ran for mayor of Oakland, California. Put together a great campaign. You know, was in a run-off, so we were never that far — plus being in Chicago. Richard J. Daley, Mayor Daley, he always tried to recruit us as precinct captains.
BOND: Oh, he did?
RUSH: Yeah, so he wanted — because we were all in the streets.
BOND: He was no fool.
RUSH: He was no fool. We were out on the streets. We were able to — we did a lot of things. We used to beat them all the time, and we supported candidates so it wasn't a real drastic change for me to get involved in politics, you know, and I believe that politics has the — can deliver something, not total freedom, but it can deliver something for a lot of people.
BOND: Now, I think you come into large public notice after the Hampton shooting. And it means that people in Chicago who would not have known you now know you, and I guess what you just said is an easy explanation of the transition from this kind of political activity to electoral politics, but are there other things that made you make this change? I mean, in addition to the Panthers' involvement in electoral politics, what is there about being an alderman that wasn't being met in your other life?
RUSH: Well, I'll tell you, you know — there isn't. I mean, when you put a resume together, although I had gone to school and gotten my degree, there's not too many things that you can put on a resume where people — as a ex-revolutionary, ex-member of the Panther Party — that people would take into consideration in terms of hiring. So, frankly, I mean it was some practicality there. I needed a job. As a matter of fact, one of the things that was most disappointing to me as I was — because at that time the Panther Party in Illinois had dissolved, but one of the most disappointing things to me — I went to some black organizations that I thought was okay, would understand, and I asked them for a job and I was turned down, you know. And I tried, I wanted to go to law school and they told me that. And I applied to DePaul University. They told me at DePaul I was more than qualified but too controversial, so I couldn't — it was a lot of things I just couldn't do. So after doors were shut in my face, I said, "What is it you can do?" I said, "Politics. You like politics. You've been involved in it. Why don't you try this?" So I ran for alderman once and lost, ran for General Assembly twice, lost. And then in 1983, Harold Washington ran, and I ran along with him, so I got involved in it that kind of way.
BOND: So you're part of the Washington sweep.
RUSH: I was elected with Harold, right, in 1983.
BOND: And does the association with Washington and his previous service in the Congress, and he was an alderman, too, wasn't he?
RUSH: No, he was just a member of the legislature.
BOND: I wonder to what degree, if he ever said, "Let me tell you how you can do this" or "Let me tell you how you can do that." Did he serve in that relationship with you?
RUSH: Yeah, Harold was a like a mentor in a lot of ways. I guess probably one of the most practical pieces of advice that Harold gave me was, "Give people your card." Because I found a lot of people who're going to ask you for things, so give them your card, and that'll put the onus on them to get in contact with you, rather than you having to try to get in contact with them. So that was — you know, he was a consummate politician, but a lot of times Harold, being more mature, being an older person, and being the consummate politician, he would get us — point us in the direction, and then there were some of us who had come up out of the civil rights movement who understood organizing, and we would go out and he would give us the charge. We would go out and then sometimes he would kind of think that we went overboard, you know. But Harold — again, his people skills were extraordinary. And I remember right before he died, one of the things that I won't ever forget is that they had a surprise birthday party for me in the chamber of the City Council and how they did it, they used Harold in order for it to happen. He called me at home — "I want to see you," you know, just like that. And I said, "Wow, what did I do, what does Harold want to see me about, did I mess up?" I was really sweating, popping off my forehead and everything. I didn't know what it was, so I went up to the office. I think it was about eleven o'clock and he kept me waiting out for a while and then he called me into the office and we had some small talk and then he said, "Well, I'll call you back. Go on down to the City Council. I'll call you back," and I went down there and all of a sudden there was this big birthday — surprise birthday party. That's the kind of people person that he was, and to have the Mayor of the City of Chicago, Harold Washington, being a part of the conspiracy to have you a surprise birthday party. I mean, it just don't get no better than that.
BOND: Now, our research says that you were interested at an early age in stories about Abraham Lincoln and Kit Carson.
RUSH: Yeah, sure.
BOND: What did these stories tell you?
RUSH: Well, they revealed to me that there was another kind of world that you could — you know, that the safe, secure world that's right in front of you, the neighborhood, there was something else. And I used to love those guys because, I mean, Kit Carson and them, they were mountain men. They went out and discovered things. I remember sometimes I would think, I said, "Boy, I was born at the wrong time because the whole world has been discovered." Now, little did I know that the frontier for the future rests inside of folks, not necessarily outside of folks, but I thought that everything had been discovered, man, and I was really just kind of depressed there for a moment because, you know, they had discovered the Rocky Mountains and they had discovered the Appalachians — all the things had been discovered, and so — but I was inspired by them.
I was inspired by Abraham Lincoln, because he was a reader. I think the thing that I really liked about Abraham Lincoln was reading stories about him sitting up there by the fireplace or whatever, you know, reading late at night and just could barely see, so those kind of things inspired me a lot, and little did I know that some of the images that I would see in terms of Abraham Lincoln was images of how he was dealing with black people, and you know — but Lincoln became a role model for me in my early years based — in my early years — on those kind of things, his ability to read and the fact that fought for black people.
In Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society was I guess about four or five blocks from my school. And I tell Lonnie Bunch now — you know, he used to be the head of the Chicago Historical Society. I tell Lonnie, "I'm probably the only person in the world that you know of who used to cut classes to go to the Historical Society."
RUSH: And that's because I was attracted to history and Lincoln. I remember the statue out there in the park, Lincoln Park there, of Abraham Lincoln and I used to sit there and wonder. But it was, you know, my curiosity, I really wanted to learn more about things and I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted my life to be a significant life, you know, not an insignificant life.
BOND: One thing, I think, that many people don't know about you who know you as the Black Panther, now the congressman, about your leadership role in organizing in public housing in Chicago. Now, how does that come about?
RUSH: Well, you know, I have this thing about poor people. I don't know where it comes from, but I do. That's a part of what I — you know, that's what motivates me is to work on behalf of poor people. So in public housing, I mean, there was — that's where the wretched of the earth in Chicago, that's where a lot of them resided, and so I found myself involved in that. I always viewed myself as being someone who could make a difference, not only — but primarily, first and foremost, in other folks' lives more so than mine. You know? I mean, lot of this stuff, when you're coming up, as you're younger and have either limited responsibilities or no responsibilities, then you could afford to kind of look at other folks' lives and how you can help and that's — I wanted to impact other people's lives and I wanted to help the poor people, and so I became involved in the public housing area and working with poor people. I don't even remember the lady's name, but I remember [being involved in public housing] — even in the Panther Party. This was back on a cold winter day in Chicago. We had just organized as the Panther Party. This lady must've lived across the street from Crane High School. We had a rally at Crane High School and somehow we wound up in her basement. Somebody must've come and told us that this lady was there without no heat and she had some babies. Man, I went into that apartment, and I really — it just moved me. I can't forget that image. I don't her name. I don't know how we helped her. I'm sure we helped her, but I just can't forget that image of this lady with these two children in this basement apartment and no heat there and, you know, and bundled up in a lot of coats and things like that, you know, and some kind of covering, but I won't ever forget that.
And I guess it was really, Julian, is it kind of reminded me of where in my younger years in the South in Georgia and, you know, coming from a family, a poor family, so those things had made quite an impression on me and even today that's what motivates me.
BOND: A short while ago, you described your motivation for going in the Army. You said you were angry and you were poor.
BOND: And the Army would take care of one of those things. They'd pay you money. It wasn't a whole lot, but it was money. What did it do for being angry?
RUSH: It didn't. What it did was give me an opportunity to step back from my anger to a certain extent, okay, at least part of the Army did. You know, and I'd say this was in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Fort Sill, Oklahoma was a kind of — it was an island that kind of gave me a little relief from my anger, you know, and helped me to realize some other parts of my life, my spirituality — I really found my spirituality in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
BOND: Really? How'd that come about?
RUSH: Well, because there was nothing to do a lot, so you spent a lot of time reflecting inwardly, you know, and I just — it was on a Saturday afternoon. I was a battery clerk so I had my own room. I was in my room and all of a sudden I just saw this very, very bright light and it was the light of Jesus just coming into the room. And I was changed. I couldn't stop crying. I was just constantly crying and from that point on, although I didn't realize it, although I put it aside, but I keep referring back to that moment because that's really what changed my life. Fort Sill gave me some quiet time —
RUSH: — you know, from the streets of Chicago, you know, music and I picked up drawing. I started to draw somewhat in Oklahoma. You know, I was able to eat on a regular basis in the service, send some money back home, so it gave me some real quiet time and I matured. My maturation process took a qualitative leap.
BOND: In spite of the bad experience you had with your commander?
RUSH: Yes, this was after I left Oklahoma and came back to —
BOND: The earlier part of your military service was good for you, this was a good time for you?
RUSH: It was good for me. Yeah, it helped me mature and get my thoughts together.
BOND: What is the first time that you thought to yourself, either consciously or subconsciously, "I am a leader. I'm leading people, I'm doing things that — " ?
RUSH: I've always considered —
BOND: When did it begin?
RUSH: I think it must've —
BOND: You talked about running for office in school.
RUSH: Yeah, running for office in school, the Boy Scouts, I mean, all of a sudden — and plus, I had a younger brother, okay, and I was always —
BOND: Leading him.
RUSH: — leading him and everything.
BOND: I'm sure you did, but I have to ask — did you feel responsible for him?
RUSH: I think I did. I think I did. I mean, I come from a broken family. My father and my mother — I guess I was impressed by both of them. My mother was a person who always was trying to better herself. My father wanted to better himself. He just couldn't get it together because, you know, he was frustrated as a black man. But I remember my mother, she was a beautician, my mother taught school for a while, and she was just doing a lot — she did a lot, and I kind of take a lot of that after my mother.
My father was a person who had the anger. He had the rage. He was a battler. You know, you wouldn't cross Jimmy Lee, but I really just aspired to do more, aspired to be more, aspired to have more of an impact. And the challenge of leadership is something I — in the Boy Scouts and the Cub Scouts, I wanted to get those badges. I wanted to get those honors. I wanted to make that kind of — you know. And I guess somehow I'm wired like that, man. I'm crazy.
BOND: So from your very early years you thought that you had something to offer other people, some ability to give direction to people, say, in effect, "Follow me. I'm going to go this way."
RUSH: Yeah, I'm going to do it. I don't know whether or not I was saying, "Follow me," but I know I was going to do it and I knew that I—
BOND: Or watch my example maybe.
RUSH: Watch my example.
BOND: "Watch my example. I'm going to win this badge, you can win it, too."
RUSH: Sure. You know what? I think that the thing that I had that maybe other folks saw and maybe I didn't realize, but I had the courage to try — to aspire and to try. Not just to aspire, but the courage to try.
BOND: Now, who put that in you? Your mom or your dad?
RUSH: I think I would have to give — my mother was more of a leadership person for me than my father. My mother was trying things. She would always try different things, and so it had — my mother, you know, again, she left the South with five children on her own and moved North, moved to Chicago. That took some courage, man.
BOND: Oh, sure.
RUSH: You know, and so, yeah, the courage to act is something that she ingrained in me, and you know, I still have that. I think that's such a big difference. There're people who are much more talented, even in my family, who are better looking, but — they have some of the prerequisites but they just don't have the courage to act. I've got the courage to act. I wasn't the best dancer in the little group in the neighborhood but I would be the first one or the second one on the floor, you know.
RUSH: You know, I pastor a church.
RUSH: Okay. I can't sing, but sometimes that choir, you know, although it might not sound right, but I'll help them out because I don't care about the talent. It's the courage to act.
BOND: And the congregation appreciates it.
RUSH: And the congregation appreciates it.
BOND: They're not looking for good singers.
RUSH: Absolutely. They want somebody — they want the feel. Right. Absolutely.
BOND: And who can help them feel what they want to feel.
RUSH: And who can help them feel it. Right, absolutely, so that's what it is. People who can't, who don't — who've got all of these talents and these skills and these gifts and these abilities — if they don't act, who knows anything about them, so I don't — my gift, God gave me the gift of courage. Gave me some commitment, but he gave me the gift of courage and that's what really helps me, moves me forward.
BOND: Let me ask you a question about leadership in several components. What is the difference between vision, philosophy, and style? How do these or do these three things work together for you? Vision, philosophy and style.
RUSH: Well, I think the vision is the Lord speaking to you. Philosophy is the world speaking to you. And style is your — how you — style is the way that you present yourself, you know. But I think your vision, I think that God gives you the vision. That vision comes — you're wired for that vision, you know, and I think that — sometimes during Dr. King's birthday I might do a speech on something on Dr. King and the "I Have a Dream" vision, and I basically tell folk that, you know, Dr. King had more than just a dream. We all have dreams, but a vision — and, you know, you can have a dream, but a vision has you. You cannot — you know, a vision won't let you go. A dream — you know, you wake up in the morning, it may or may not be there. But a vision is something that grabs hold of you and keeps pushing and pulling and, you know — to me, that's what a vision is. Again, philosophy is learned behavior, learned attitudes, learned thoughts.
BOND: Some people who've been in these interviews have said that their vision changes, that when they were younger or in one phase of life they had a vision like this and then it changed. It didn't reverse or go back, but it just — it broadened, it narrowed. Has your vision changed over life?
RUSH: No, it hasn't changed. I'm basically — I fight for the better[ment] of humanity. I'm inspired by trying to do what I can for people who are broken, people who have no hope. I'm inspired by that, so it never changes. That's what has motivated me since I was a young man, and it's never, ever changed, and I think that that's what I mean by vision. I've been able to — I think a vision, it doesn't change. It matures, but it doesn't change.
BOND: All right. Let me challenge you here. At Fred Hampton's funeral, you said, "The power structure has genocide in their minds," and now anybody who looked at you today would say you are in the power structure. Now, you don't have genocide in your mind. So how do you balance these — ?
RUSH: I still have genocide in my mind.
BOND: Well, you don't want to practice it. You want to prevent it.
RUSH: Oh, you're talking about — oh, no. Okay. I understand what you're saying. I'm not a part of the power structure. Don't let me fool you now.
BOND: You're a member of the Congress.
RUSH: I'm a member of the Congress and everything like that, but I'm not a part of real power structure here. I have certain limited power, all right, and what my role is in the Congress is to get as many resources as I can back to those poor people who live in my district and in other places, but I would not — you know, I could not be in that comfort zone to say I was a member of the power structure. Sure, there're some powers and prerogatives and you have some influence and things like that, but it's not — if you take that and set it aside statically, you know, if you put it one of these shelves and say, "This is what the power is," then you really don't have it. You have to activate it, so division has to be a part of what motivates and energizes the power. The power has to be connected to the vision. It's not something that's static.
BOND: I see what you're saying.
RUSH: So, you know, again, in terms of — you know, we talked about the genocide. I could never be a part of something that was genocidal. However, I know that the society and the power structure, the real power structure, those who are in power but don't realize that the genocide is taking place on a day-to-day basis even in America, even in our own homes, I mean, our communities, but it's much more subtle now. It's not the way it was before and in some ways, it is the way it was before.
You know, most of the penitentiaries now, that's — to me, that's an aspect, a component of genocide in terms of having young black men and young black women locked up in the numbers that they are.
You know, the fact that the healthcare system — to me, that's a component, an aspect of a genocidal-type attitude even though it's not just the active genocide. The fact that we don't have in my neighborhood, in my city, produce — fresh produce is almost alien. You know, the fact that most of our young people grow up thinking that ketchup is a vegetable. That's a form of genocide to me. You know, so, and then you have all the other kinds of things that's going on with the dope and things like that, so I feel like that genocide is still a part of our lives as African Americans.
BOND: Let me shift gears and ask you a question about how leaders are made, how leaders are created. Some people think great people cause great events. And others say, "No, unpredictable events create leaders appropriate for the times." And then some people say movements make leaders. Do you think any one of these is the thing or — ?
RUSH: No, I think all three of them apply.
BOND: All three of them. Leadership comes out of all of these.
RUSH: Yeah, different kinds of leadership. I think that, you know, there's popular leadership, prophetic leadership, other different kinds of leadership, but I think that we are the type of leadership that have — and there's professional leadership — but there is the type of leadership that really I'm attracted to is more of the leadership that comes from mass movements, and it's more of a prophetic kind of leadership and certainly there're a whole lot of biblical references and examples of it. I think that certainly Dr. King, Fred Hampton, there's others, and Malcolm, some of the others, they're all kind of prophetic kinds of leadership and those kinds of leadership inspire me.
BOND: Your legitimacy as a leader — does it come from your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or does it come from your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement?
RUSH: I try to lead by example, okay? So I think that people follow me because they believe that I have — I'm able to persuade them by my example primarily and by my courage, by my going up against the odds and overcoming the odds. I think that's what it is.
BOND: Do you have a general philosophy that guides your life? And if you do, and I'm betting you that you do, how has it sustained you through challenges or the bad times or moments when everybody's against you and saying you're wrong? How does this philosophy guide you?
RUSH: Well, I didn't realize it until late in my life, but you know, I think that I've always felt that leadership should not be necessarily restricted to popularity or to popular appeal, that you have to do what you think is right. There's got to be integrity in leadership, but now I'm more — I understand it more now that I — I'm taught so much by the gospel of Jesus. I'm taught so much now by the Bible. I realize now that all the times when I have been alone, I wasn't lonely. All the times that I have been misunderstood, that, in fact, you know, I was really following how God wired me up.
You know, in the book of Jeremiah, the first chapter that talks about He knew you before you were formed in your mother's womb. He formed Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born, and I think that's what God does for all of us. God created all of us for a particular purpose, for particular inclinations, for particular drives. He creates in all of us the capacity to glorify Him, and I think that's where leadership comes from. And I recognize that now. I recognize that all the things from the little barefoot boy in Georgia, you know, who had this love for books and love for reading to Boy Scouts, the Panther Party, SNCC — you know, to the City Council and the Congress, and now pastor of a church, the Beloved Community Christian Church in Chicago, you know, all those things, that's God working with me and through me and leading me and guiding me, so it's really the power of the Holy Spirit. That's where it comes from.
BOND: How did religion become so important to you? I know if we'd had this conversation twenty years ago, I don't think it would've been the same.
BOND: Even though you would've already had that experience in Oklahoma.
BOND: So, what happened between that experience in Oklahoma and today that made religion important to you?
RUSH: Well, you know, after a while, you're banging your head up ahead a wall so much and then finally you realize something might sink in and I tried it all, man. You know. But I didn't get the — I can't get kind of results that I have that I'm getting now, I don't have the same kind of peace, the same kind of confidence. I don't have the same kind of satisfaction. I mean, I really don't even have the same kind of zeal that I have now. I didn't have it now —
You know, it's something that's amazing about the gospel of Jesus and how when you accept the Lord as your Savior and you really get to doing kingdom work, you know, it inspires you in a way that you never thought you could be inspired before. I thought that by this time in my life, you know — and being a member of the U.S. Congress and thirteen years in the Congress — I thought that I would be able to settle down and live the life of middle class America and go on vacations and stuff like that. And I tried it for a moment and then all of a sudden the Lord took my son away from me. Violence became a real big issue for me, and I heard the Lord say, "You can do more, you can do more, you can — " And I had to come out of that comfort zone and get back into the throes and get back into — on the front line and really, in a way that I've never done it before. And I'm so happy and so — even more, I've got joy in my heart because of this, because —
And I realize as I look back over those years, I said, the Lord — what happened as I reflect back, He was preparing me for this service at this point in time, at this season in my life. He was preparing. All those things was preparation for what I'm doing now and so I just — again, and I'm not being pious or anything like that. I'm far from it — I just believe that it was Him working through my life even from before I was born. He knew that I was going to be where I am right now and doing what I'm doing right now and that's how He wired me up.
BOND: You talked about having a prophetic voice in politics. How can you do that while insuring that we have this separation between church and state that we think is so important in this country?
RUSH: Well, I think that it's important, too, but I think there's a distinction between separation of church and state, the official state machinery and religion, but there's not a separation between religion and politics. I think that politics can be a way of mobilizing a religious group or mobilizing believers in the gospel to perform a good — to make sure that there's a good that's delivered. Let me make sure that I'm saying this real clear.
I argue with the right but I also argue with the left. I think the right is, in my estimation, my opinion, they are short-circuiting, they are bastardizing the gospel of Jesus, okay? However, I believe that the left has become so compliant. The left is so unsure of itself and suffering from such an identity crisis that we won't challenge the right based on the principles of the gospel that we've — you know, I was brought up on the Bible. So I know what the Bible means and what it says and the gospel of Jesus. I understand it real clear, you know, what Jesus was about, his public ministry. And so they can't tell me that the gospel of Jesus didn't put poor people first.
BOND: Well, on that prophetic note we have to end. I want to thank you, Congressman Rush. Thank you so much for being with us.
RUSH: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
BOND: Thank you for spending the time.
RUSH: Thank you.