Epic procession fitting end to scholar Dr. Conrad Worrill’s journey home
By Erick Johnson
To the thumping sounds of drums, clenched fists and African pageantry, the life of esteemed scholar Dr. Conrad Worrill was celebrated on June 15 with a grand ending fit for an African King.
Nearly 200 cars with African flags waving to the sunny skies joined a stunning procession. The procession traveled through five South Side neighborhoods where it snarled traffic and inspired onlookers to raise clenched fists to show their Black pride.
It was a fitting send-off for a man whose impact ran deep in Chicago’s Black community, including the Chicago Crusader, where for 25 years in his weekly column, Dr. Worrill stressed the importance of knowing one’s African heritage and roots.
Worrill died the same way he lived.
In full African regalia, Dr. Worrill was given the last rites of an African King, nearly two weeks after cancer sent him home to his ancestors. A larger public memorial service is being planned for a future date.
Dr. Worrill was buried at Oak Woods Cemetery—the final resting place of so many prominent Blacks, including former Mayor Harold Washington. Dr. Worrill played a key role in the historic election of Washington, the city’s first Black mayor.
That was just one of many contributions Dr. Worrill made to a city he loved and an African culture to which he devoted his life to the very end.
He was buried in a red, black and green casket that represented the colors of the African continent and the Pan African flag designed by the late Black leader Marcus Garvey. He was one of Dr. Worrill’s favorite leaders who, in the early 1920s, urged Africans in America to return to the Motherland to gain their independence and find their ethnic roots.
The interior of Dr. Worrill’s casket was lined with symbolic Black velveteen fabric with his name embroidered on the cover. Dr. Worrill was dressed in cream-colored African garb with gold stitching.
When Dr.Worrill died June 3, it was a bittersweet moment for Black Chicago, who looked to Worrill for insight and understanding of its ethnic identity. Last weekend, Chicagoans near and far came to honor his life and legacy with many wearing bright African regalia.
On Sunday, June 14, hundreds attended a public viewing at Leak & Sons Funeral Home from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Only 10 visitors were allowed in at a time because of the coronavirus pandemic. By 3 p.m., traffic was at a near standstill at 79th and Cottage Grove as Dr. Worrill’s body sat in the funeral home’s King’s Chapel, an ironic title given Dr. Worrill’s stature as a highly regarded, unapologetic African figure.
Dr. Worrill’s nearly three-hour homegoing service on June 15 was held at Northeastern Illinois University’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, where he taught for 40 years and served as department chair before retiring in 2016. The service was private, but was streamed live on YouTube through the Black United Fund of Illinois (BUFI).
“Dr. Worrill was an esteemed, international scholar who loved Black people and helping people. A historian with a recall beyond a million elephants combined. I will always be beholding for his confidence, leadership, mentoring and support of my elevation from a board member to the Executive Director of the Black United Fund of Illinois,” said Carolyn Day, executive director of BUFI, in a statement.
Born in Pasadena, CA, Dr. Worrill moved to Chicago at the age of nine. He attended Hyde Park Academy High School, where he ran track and excelled as an athlete. He earned a bachelor’s degree from George Williams College, a master’s from the University of Chicago, and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. He supported reparations for descendants of slaves and stressed an African curriculum in public schools.
Dr. Worrill credited his father, Walter F. Worrill, an executive at the historic YMCA in Bronzeville with his success. Worrill leaves behind his wife, Talibah; daughters Femi Skanes, Michelle Lanier, Sobenna Worrill and Kimberly Aisha King; brother Oscar; and seven grandchildren.
The homegoing service began with a special libation ceremony and included the Black anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” During the viewing, Talibah Worrill kissed her husband’s forehead and wept uncontrollably.
Outside, an African drum ensemble in full African regalia, performed as dancers moved to the rhythms and thumping sounds. The drummers and dancers formed a line and held their clenched fists high as pallbearers carried Worrill’s body to the waiting hearse.
There were so many cars in the funeral procession that Leak & Sons Funeral Homes ran out of funeral signs. On most of the 200 cars were Pan African flags, placed in the rear passenger window.
Together, the procession was a stunning display of African pride that traveled to sites that were a part of Worrill’s life.
From the Oakland neighborhood, the procession with three Chicago police cruisers serving as escorts, traveled South on Cottage Grove as a long line of onlookers raised their clenched fists.
On Cottage Grove, the procession went past the DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park. The procession then traveled to the University of Chicago, and headed east on the Midway Plaisance.
Then, it traveled south on Stony Island past Hyde Park Academy, where a group of people held a sign that said, “We Love You Conrad Worrill.”
The procession traveled past the YMCA before it reached 71st and Stony Island, where it turned left and headed east to Jeffrey Blvd. From there, the procession headed south on 73rd Street and traveled west on Stony Island near Mosque Maryam.
The procession then traveled north on Stony Island to 67th Street, where it turned left and headed for Oak Woods Cemetery. There, Dr Worrill was returned to the earth in a private ceremony.
He was at rest at last.