Dr. Manford Byrd a longtime Chicago Public Schools administrator died January 17, 2021, in Chicago. He was 93.
Born May 29, 1928 in Brewton, Alabama, he attended high school at Southern Normal High School in Brewton and was recruited to attend Central College in Pella, Iowa. After graduating from Central College in 1949, he earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Atlanta University in 1954.
Byrd began his career in education teaching in Quincy, Illinois from 1949-1954 before accepting a teaching position in Chicago.
Shortly after arriving in Chicago in 1954, Byrd attended a training session for new teachers in the Chicago school system. In those sessions he met another newly appointed teacher, Cheribelle Warfield. On their first date, they went to a dance where the Count Basie Orchestra performed. The choice of venue was not surprising given Manford’s love of jazz. They married in 1956 and the “swing” from the music played during their first date continued throughout their 64 year marriage.
Byrd enjoyed a fast moving career, assuming increasing levels of responsibility in the Chicago Public School system as teacher, assistant principal, elementary and high school principal and assistant to the General Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools.
In 1968, at the young age of 39, Byrd was appointed Deputy Superintendent and Chief Operating Officer of Chicago Public Schools. The appointment made him one of the highest ranking African American public sector leaders in the nation.
Years later in the 70s, Byrd was passed over when the General Superintendent’s position became vacant, despite strong backing from the Black community. Though the stated reason was that he lacked a doctorate degree, Black supporters believed race was the primary reason for him not being selected. A determined Byrd became a student once again, enrolling at Northwestern University. He received his Ph.D. in Education from Northwestern in 1978.
In 1981, Byrd was denied the General Superintendent position yet again, amidst a strong and concerted push by Chicago’s African American community for his selection.
By then he had the required doctorate degree but was still not chosen by the mayor and the school board in place at the time. The African American community in Chicago continued to rally behind Byrd, organizing marches to City Hall where supporters chanted “What’s the word, Manford Byrd!”
In 1985, Byrd was appointed General Superintendent under the administration of Harold Washington. He held the position until he retired in 1990.
Despite the frustrations and disappointments experienced during his career, Byrd always maintained a positive outlook. A favorite quote was the Frederick Douglass statement, “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and never will.”
Dr. Byrd served on many boards and organizations including the Chicago State University Foundation, Joint Negro Appeal, the Mid-America Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Chicago NAACP, the United Church Board for World Ministries, the University of Illinois Chicago Urban Health Programs, and the Board of Trustees of Central College and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
He was the recipient of over 150 awards and commendations for excellence in teaching and academic administration, including honorary doctoral degrees from Central College, Hope College and the National College of Education. He was also recognized by the History Makers.
Byrd was fiercely loyal to family, friends and the African American community that supported him.
A charter member of Trinity United Church of Christ, the church in 1981 established the annual Manford Byrd Black Value System – Educational Scholarship in his honor. It is provided to students who have demonstrated educational achievement and excellence while maintaining a steadfast commitment to uplifting the Afri- can American community.
Two Visitation Services for Dr. Byrd were planned for January 28-29, at Unity Funeral Parlor and Trinity United Church of Christ, respectively. A Virtual Memorial was to be delivered from Trinity United Church of Christ on January 29.
Dr. Byrd is survived by his life partner of 64 years, wife Cheribelle; and three sons, Carl, Bradley, and Donald; eight grandchildren, Calina, Kiara, Brianna, Bradon, Kendell, Bremond, Carter and Drake; and one great grandson, Nevario.