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Bobby Rush Finds Life After the Black Panthers as a Voice for Change

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

When I heard that Rep. Bobby Rush had decided to call it quits after an impressive three decades of service in Congress, I was reminded — to borrow my favorite line from the Grateful Dead — what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Our career paths first brought us together in the late 1960s when he was vice chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party.

Two decades later, he was vice chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

“Only in America,” as my late father liked to say with a sense of satisfaction over how far Black folks had come in his lifetime.

Indeed, I reported on the Illinois Panther chapter before its original chairman Fred Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark died in a 1969 FBI “shootout” that turned out to be more of an assassination, as depicted in the Oscar-nominated “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Rush moved into Hampton’s position as the organization was in decline, and I found myself covering his first campaign for Chicago City Council — and later his victory in the 1st District congressional race on Chicago’s South Side.

 

Now his three decades of service are remembered most often as the only politician to beat Barack Obama. That’s probably just as well, since the loss left Obama free to win a Senate seat and the White House.

Asked about that victory over the politically inexperienced Obama, Rush joked, after recounting how rich and famous Obama has since become, “I wonder sometimes who really won that race.”

But the two later became good friends, Rush said, recalling how Obama asked for his advice as to whether he should run for president.

“Go out and do it,” Rush responded, “ ‘If you don’t do it now, you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it.’ I think that was sound advice.”

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