Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Making a Difference: Public Housing

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.