Timuel Black was a prominent civil rights activist, educator, writer, speaker, and historian. Black is a revered leader who dedicated his life to advancing social justice. He was known for keeping the history of Black Chicago alive.
"Tim spent decades chronicling and lifting up Black Chicago history. But he also made plenty of history himself," Former President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Black was one of Obama's early career mentors. He played an instrumental role in advocating for the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago's South Side. He also marched with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and campaigned for Chicago's first African-American mayor Harold Washington.
Black captured the history of African-Americans on Chicago's South Side through his interviews and experiences. His book, Bridges of Memory, chronicles Chicago history from the time he arrived in the city (around 1920) to the present.
Black passed away on October 13, 2021 at his Hyde Park home on Chicago's South Side. He was 102.
“Like many others in the University of Chicago community, I was privileged to know Timuel Black,” said Chancellor Robert J. Zimmer in a news release. “He was a devoted student and teacher of the history of the South Side, and he lived that history over a remarkable span of 102 years, during which he helped to bring about profound changes. We are grateful for the wisdom that is his enduring gift to the city he loved, and I am personally grateful for our friendship over many years.”
Timuel Black was born on December 7, 1918 during the 1918 influenza pandemic. According to the CDC, the H1N1 virus caused the pandemic and spread throughout the world during 1918-1919. Approximately 33% of the world's population (500 million people) were infected with the virus. Additionally, the nation had just ended World War I when Black was born.
Key moments before Black's birth:
Black was the son of Alabama sharecroppers Mattie and Timuel Black. His grandparents were born as slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham, gave them access to freedom. In his memoir, Sacred Ground, Black reveals his grandfather's slave master's son was Hugo Black, the United States senator and Supreme Court justice.
In August 1919, the young Black moved to Chicago with his family. Black was raised in Chicago’s “Black Belt.” This area is now known as Bronzeville.
Racial tensions escalated as many African-Americans migrated to the North after World War I. The Chicago Race Riots, mainly on the city's South Side, were among the most violent in the world. During the "Red Summer" of 1919, a group of white youth terrorized an African-American teenager at a "segregated" Chicago beach. This triggered a week of rioting between African-Americans and Caucasians.
Key moment in Chicago:
Black attended Edmund Burke Elementary school located at 5356 S. King Drive. He continued his education at DuSable High School, located at 4934 S. Wabash Ave. In 1952, Black earned his bachelor's degree in
In 1952, Black earned a bachelor's degree from Roosevelt University. A couple years later, he received a master's degree in sociology and history from the University of Chicago.
He marched with mentored a young Barack Obama and helped bring the Obama Presidential Center to the South Side.
In 2012, Black was awarded the William Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service. The University of Chicago honored him as "one of the most influential civil rights leaders in Chicago history.”
“Timuel Black dedicated his life to helping communities across Chicago, especially on the South Side,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement and external affairs at UChicago, in a University news release. “His unparalleled understanding of the area’s history and people made him an outstanding advocate, a trusted counselor, and a consummate community partner."
Black enriched the lives of residents on the South Side, including the youth. He shared his wisdom and historical encounters as an educator within Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges. He was also a mentor to young professionals in the city.
"An ancestor, he paved the way for so many of us, especially Chicagoans. You may have no idea how your life has been altered by his work, his words, his smile, his love of love and justice and Black people. But it was. His life was about LIFE and LIVING," Xavier Ramey, CEO of Justice Informed, LLC, a social impact consulting firm in Chicago.
Black created the Timuel D. Black Community Solidarity Scholarship, in partnership with the University of Chicago, to provide future generations with access to opportunities. This annual award is given to a University of Chicago student who exemplifies Black's leadership and spirit.
“Tim was one of the most passionate community leaders of the effort to bring the Obama Presidential Center to the South Side, and his vision was central to that proposal’s success. Even as we mourn his loss, we know his humanitarian spirit will continue to guide us in working toward a bright future for the South Side and beyond.”
Timuel Black's legacy will live on. On October 13, 2021, Black died from prostate cancer at the age of 102. Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black chronicles the life and times of this acclaimed historian, activist, and storyteller.
Do you know someone who has made a significant impact on Chicago's South Side? Leave a comment below and let us know.
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