Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Choosing Political Pathways

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.