||Common rust (CR) caused by Puccinia sorghi Schwein is one of the major foliar diseases of maize (Zea mays L.) in Eastern and Southern Africa. This study was conducted to (i) evaluate the response of elite tropical adapted maize inbred lines to Puccinia sorghi and identify resistant lines (ii) examine associations between CR disease parameters and agronomic traits, and (iii) assess the genetic diversity of the inbred lines. Fifty inbred lines were evaluated in field trials for three seasons (2017–2019) in Uganda under artificial inoculation. Disease severity was rated on a 1–9 scale at 21 (Rust 1), 28 (Rust 2), and 35 (Rust 3) days after inoculation. Area under disease progress curve (AUDPC) was calculated. The genetic diversity of the lines was assessed using 44,975 single nucleotide polymorphism markers. Combined ANOVA across seasons showed significant (P < .001) line mean squares for the three rust scores and AUDPC. Heritability was high for Rust 2 (0.90), Rust 3 (0.83), and AUDPC (0.93). Of the 50 lines, 12 were highly resistant to CR. Inbred lines CKL1522, CKL05010, and CKL05017 had significantly lower Rust 3 scores and AUDPC compared to the resistant check CML444 and are potential donors of CR resistance alleles. The genetic correlations between CR disease resistance parameters were positive and strong. A neighbor‐joining (NJ) tree and STRUCTURE suggested the presence of three major groups among the lines, with lines highly resistant to CR spread across the three groups. The genetic diversity among the highly resistant lines can be exploited by recycling genetically distant lines to develop new multiple disease resistant inbred lines for hybrid development and deployment.