The Crusader Newspaper Group

Services set for historian and civil rights leader Dr. Timuel Black

Timuel Black

A public memorial service for historian and civil rights leader Dr. Timuel Black will be held on December 5 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago, according to Black’s wife Zenobia Johnson-Black.

Large crowds were expected to pay their respects to Black at his viewing and visitation that was scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 21, at A.A. Rayner and Sons Funeral Home, 318 E. 71st St., Chicago. A private funeral service was scheduled for Friday, Oct. 23.

On, 1,400 donors gave a total of $117,288 to Black’s wife. Black died at his Kenwood home on October 13, two weeks after close friends announced that he was in hospice care at home.

He died less than two months before his 103rd birthday. In a New York Times article Zenobia Johnson- Black said the cause of death was prostate cancer.

Politicians and community leaders remember Black as a courageous trailblazer and a scholar of Black Chicago history. Black was also credited with the election of Harold Washington as the city’s first Black mayor.

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, through the Illinois House of Representatives, last week issued a House Resolution to recognize Black for his local and national work in the Civil Rights Movement.

Black was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 7, 1918. His family became part of the first Great Migration of African Americans from the Deep South, settling in Chicago in 1919. A nationally respected educator, political activist, community leader, oral historian, philanthropist and philosopher, Black lived on the South Side since the family moved to Chicago over 100 years ago.

He attended Edmund Burke Elementary School and DuSable High School. Black worked as a paperboy for the Chicago Defender. During the Great Depression, Black worked as a delivery boy for a local grocery store where he learned about community organizing. He would later organize the “Don’t Spend Your Money Where You Can’t Work” campaign in the 1930s.

That campaign led to the creation of the Negro Retail Clerks Union. In the 1940s, Black was an active organizer of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), which worked to desegregate Chicago department stores.

During World War II, Black served in the U.S. Army and was awarded four battle stars and a Croix de Guerre, the highest military honor given to non-citizens by the French government. After the war, Black earned a bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University and later obtained a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.

In 1955, after seeing Dr. Martin Luther King on television, Black abandoned his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago to become an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. He served as the Chicago chair of the historic 1963 March on Washington.

Black was one of the first African Americans in Chicago to challenge the “Regular Democratic Organization” and coined the phrase “plantation politics.” He ran for public office several times and was a leader in the massive voter registration campaign that led to the election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first Black mayor. Black has published “Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Great Migration,” which chronicled the history of Black Chicago from the 1920s to the present.

After decades of teaching at high schools, mostly in Chicago, in 1975 Black became a professor of sociology, anthropology, and Black history at Loop College, which was later renamed Harold Washington College.

Washington, a friend of Black’s from his youth, in 1982 represented their neighborhood in the House of Representatives.

Black and others suggested that he run for mayor. In his memoir, “Sacred Ground,” Black recalled that Washington laughed in response.

Black recalled that Washington accepted his challenge on the condition that Black register 50,000 new Black voters and raise $100,000.

Black started a fundraising drive and helped organize a voter registration campaign and told Washington that he and several organizers had come up with 263,000 new voters and more than $1 million in donations.

Washington in 1983 was elected as Chicago’s first Black mayor. He was re-elected in 1987. Less than a year into his second term, Washington died of a heart attack on November 25, 1987.

In 2000, Black was the lead plaintiff in Black v. McGuffage, a lawsuit that charged the Illinois voting system with systemic discrimination against minorities.

For his work, Black was honored by the American Civil Liberties Union as Civil Libertarian of the Year.

In 2008, Black received an honorary doctoral degree from his alma mater, Roosevelt University. In 2010, and again in 2015, Black traveled to the Netherlands and The Hague to be honored and lecture at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day Dinner of the United States Embassy.

In January of 2012, the Timuel D. Black Archive of Black’s documents was officially inaugurated and opened to researchers in the Vivian Harsh Collection at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library in Chicago.

That same year, Black was awarded the 54-year-old Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service from the University of Chicago.

He was the first Black person to receive this award.

In 2013, the City of Chicago honored Black with the inaugural Chicago Champion of Freedom Medal for his local and national efforts in the Civil Rights Movement.

It was at his centennial celebration in 2018 that he was knighted by the French government and received the French Legion of Honor Medal, the highest honor given to civilians.

Recent News

Scroll to Top