Chicago civil rights icon Timuel Black dies at 102

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Chicago civil rights icon Timuel Black has died at the age of 102.

Earlier this month, Black entered hospice care.

Black was an organizer of the March on Washington in 1963 and dedicated his life to teaching the history of Black America to the next generation.

In February, WGN News’ Micah Materre interviewed Black after he turned 102 in December 2020.

Born in Alabama, his parents, sharecroppers, were a part of the first Great Migration from the South to the North. Black was brought to Chicago when he was one.

He said his parents had plenty of reasons to want to leave the South.

“To fight back from the Ku Klux Klan, to vote for the first Black congressman, Oscar de Priest, and to be able to have quality education for their children,” he said.

During his long life, Black served during World War II, but noticed racism existed behind enemy lines as well.

He was drafted and landed smack dab in the middle of a segregated Army. Black said African American troops were mistreated and persecuted. Black received four bronze medals from the Battle of the Bulge and came out without a scratch. But internally, he was battered and bruised.

He said he used that fire to take on a racist and segregated city. He received a bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University in 1949, a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and then went on to a teaching career.

He went on to invite Dr. King to speak in Chicago. Later, as president of the Chicago chapter of the Negro American Labor Council, he helped organize King’s march in 1966 in Marquette Park.

“I feel that the end is on its way, but I have the feeling of ‘I’ve done the best that I could every day,’ that is my reward,” Black told WGN News earlier this year. “That when the end comes I will leave with hardly no regrets, because I did the best I could.”

A GoFundMe to help his family with medical expenses has raised over $100,000 at this time.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson released the following statement on the loss of his “dear friend.”

“Sadden over the death of his dear friend, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. Wednesday said Timuel Black, a professor, author, and community activist, was a great teacher and a tall tree in the civil rights forest.

He was a teacher par excellence. He followed students beyond the classroom. Tim taught them about politics and business science. He was a devotee of Dr. King’s work and those who worked on his staff.

Tim embraced us as his younger brothers and sisters. We all have a profound admiration for Tim Black. He is an icon of rare vintage…one of the rare teachers in the city of Chicago.”

Former President Barack Obama released the following statement.

Today, the city of Chicago and the world lost an icon with the passing of Timuel Black.

Tim spent decades chronicling and lifting up Black Chicago history. But he also made plenty of history himself.

After moving to Chicago with his family as part of the Great Migration, Tim served in the military during World War II — surviving the Normandy invasion, and fighting across France and in the Battle of the Bulge.

Tim visited Buchenwald shortly after it was liberated, witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust. That experience, along with the racial discrimination he faced in the Army, deepened his resolve to fight for social justice. And after returning home to Chicago, he became a fierce advocate for change through education and mutual understanding.

Over his 102 years, Tim was many things: a veteran, historian, author, educator, civil rights leader, and humanitarian. But above all, Tim was a testament to the power of place, and how the work we do to improve one community can end up reverberating through other neighborhoods and other cities, eventually changing the world.

Today, Michelle and I send our thoughts to Tim’s wife Zenobia, and everyone who loved and admired this truly incredible man.

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