October 22, 2021
Timuel Dixon Black, Jr.
102 Years of History, Activism & Giving Back
Left: Professor Timuel Black teaching at Loop College, Chicago, Illinois, c.1990s
Right: Timuel Black at his home in Hyde Park, Chicago, Illinois, 2013
On Wednesday, October 13, historian, professor, prominent activist, and dear friend to The HistoryMakers, Timuel Black, Jr., passed at the age of 102 at his home in Hyde Park in Chicago, Illinois—a place he had an especially profound influence on during his impactful, long life.   
Mattie McConner and Timuel Black, Sr., c. 1950s
Born on December 7, 1918, in Birmingham, Alabama to Mattie McConner and Timuel Black, Sr., Black recalled in his 2000 HistoryMakers interview how his family arrived in Chicago in 1919 like so many others during the Great Migration: “[The move was] prompted by my mother because she wanted to get my dad out [of Birmingham]… About eight months after I was born… my grandmother came to Chicago to help… my mother's baby sister with her children… and she became ill while she was here and Momma saw that as a good opportunity… to see her mother and to look around and she did. She came back to Birmingham and she told my dad there's plenty of work and… legend has it that somebody said… ‘if you can't make it in Chicago, you can't make it anywhere.’[1]
Labor movement demonstration, Washington D.C., 1930
While growing up in Chicago, Black was exposed to varying political beliefs, even just within his own home. He explained: “My father was a Garveyite… He did not believe that there would ever be any hope for black people in this country and his idea was a back to Africa attitude... My mother was an integrationist.”[2] He was thoughtful as a child, as he discussed: “Most people who knew me growing up would have said I was quiet. I was shy. I didn't want to get into a situation where I might be wrong and feel uncomfortable… I was a good listener… my mother and my aunt and all would [be] talking about these grandiose plans… and I would interject into it sometimes, ‘Now how are you going to do that?’ …to the point where they would say, ‘Here comes old Mr. Killjoy…’ That was innocent inquiry… in some ways introspective.”[3] At a young age, his father sought to show him how some “grandiose” plans could come to fruition: “My father was in the labor movement and my first time on a picket line was when I was twelve years old at 43rd [Street] and Prairie [Avenue, Chicago, Illinois] and the issue was don't spend your money where you don't work.”[4]
Left: African American reinforcements arrive on the beaches of Normandy, France, June 1944
Right: Timuel Black, Roosevelt University, c. 1948-1952
After graduating from DuSable High School in 1937, Black worked for the Metropolitan Burial Society until being drafted into World War II in 1943. Black endured the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge—earning four battle stars, the Legion of Honour, and the French Croix de Guerre. He then began his teaching career in Gary, Indiana, earning his bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University in 1952 and his master’s degree in 1954 from the University of Chicago, studying sociology and history under renowned scholar Allison Davis, the first tenured African American professor at the University.[5]
Left: Timuel Black (far left) preparing Hyde Park High School students to travel to the March on Washington, Chicago, Illinois, August 1963
Right: Chicago Public Schools desegregation poster authored by the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, Chicago, Illinois, 1963
Advertising manager Stuart Rankin, founder of the Equinox advertising firm, recalled working with Black at Hyde Park High School in Chicago in the early 1960s: “I got in trouble at Hyde Park because we started teaching African American history because it wasn't being taught… And I worked with a guy named Tim Black… and a couple of other teachers, we developed… a black history segment… And the principal at the time, a Dr. Laney [ph.], he didn't like the idea but he couldn't get rid of Tim, and… the other teachers 'cause they had seniority. I was the junior guy, so he got me transferred out of the school… But… if there's anybody should get credit for it [African American history] --being put into the public schools of Chicago [Illinois]… Tim would be the guy.”[6] Throughout the 1960s, Black served as president of Chicago’s Negro American Labor Council and was an organizer of “freedom trains” that took thousands of Chicagoans to the March on Washington. Black also worked to end segregation in Chicago Public Schools, ran for the Chicago City Council where, although he lost the election, he generated national attention coining the term “plantation politics.”[7]
Timuel Black giving a speech, undated
Inspiring a new generation of politicians and organizers, Illinois State Representative Monica Stewart spoke of her entrance into politics and campaigns in the 1970s: “At that time in Chicago, [HistoryMaker and U.S. Representative] Ralph Metcalfe had been dumped by late Mayor [Richard J.] Daley at that time… [for] speaking out on issues of police brutality, and I thought… that this was a campaign worth getting involved with. I also happened to see Professor Tim Black speak. And Tim made a comment about young people with energy should do whatever in their lifetime. I'm going to work in this campaign.”[8]
Left: Mayor Harold Washington (left) and Timuel Black (right), Chicago, Illinois, 1983
Right: Timuel Black speaking with University of Chicago students on a South Side History tour, Chicago, Illinois, c. 2010s
As a prominent community leader, Black also helped elect Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983, and the first African American woman U.S. Senator, HistoryMaker Carol Moseley Braun, in 1992. In 1992, Black also met with HistoryMaker Barack Obama, who had just moved to Chicago as a young political organizer. An author, Black published Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Great Migration (2003), Bridges of Memory: Chicago's Second Generation of Great Migration (2007), and Sacred Grounds: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black as Told to Susan Klonsky (2019). In 2014, Black was part of the proposal to bring the Obama Presidential Center to the South Side of Chicago, and, well into his late 90s, Black led tours about the history of the Bronzeville neighborhood that helped young people learn about his efforts, as well as that of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[9]
Left: Timuel Black (left) and A. Phillip Randolph (right), Chicago, Illinois, c.1970s
Right: Timuel Black (left), U.S. Congressman John Conyers (center), and unidentified man, c.1970s
Black reflected on his parents and life at the conclusion of his HistoryMakers interview, stating: “Oh, they'd be proud. They were proud then… not in the material things that we were able to give them but in the spiritual that they had been able to realize through us the hopes and dreams that their parents brought out of slavery… I had responsibilities to carry on their mission to others… that tomorrow is another day… I'm gratified that I had the opportunity to live in these generations where I could have a mother and father that I could talk with. That I had a grandmother that I saw and have had the chance… to go… along the west coast of Africa where my memory… [and] where my imagination can run wild and to have had a chance to grow up in a city like Chicago [Illinois] where I was able to make a little difference.”[10]
Left: Timuel Black (far right) with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other labor activists organizing the garment industry, Chicago, Illinois, c.1960s
Right: President Barack Obama hugging Timuel Black during a visit to the Obama Foundation, Chicago, Illinois, August 28, 2018
Timuel Dixon Black, Jr. was a gift, and, as President Obama recently wrote, “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.”[11]
[1] Timuel Black (The HistoryMakers A2000.007), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 19, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 1, Timuel Black talks about his parents' background.
[2] Timuel Black (The HistoryMakers A2000.007), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 19, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 6, Timuel Black talks about his father's personality.
[3] Timuel Black (The HistoryMakers A2000.007), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 19, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 8, Timuel Black describes his personality as a child.
[4] Timuel Black (The HistoryMakers A2000.007), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 19, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 2, Timuel Black recalls his early interest in social change.
[5] Michael Drapa and Max Witynski, “Timuel Black, civil rights leader and Chicago historian, 1918–2021,” U Chicago News, October 13, 2021, accessed October 18, 2021. https://news.uchicago.edu/story/timuel-black-civil-rights-leader-and-chicago-historian-1918-2021
[6] Stuart Rankin (The HistoryMakers A2003.252), interviewed by Larry Crowe, October 9, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 8, Stuart Rankin talks about developing an African American history curriculum with HistoryMaker Timuel Black at Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Illinois.
[7] Drapa and Witynski, “Timuel Black.”
[8] The Honorable Monica Stewart (The HistoryMakers A2001.084), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, August 24, 2001, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, Monica Faith Stewart recalls her first involvement in a political campaign.
[9] Drapa and Witynski, “Timuel Black.”
[10] Timuel Black (The HistoryMakers A2000.007), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 19, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 7, story 6, Timuel Black ponders what his parents' impressions of his character would be.
[11] Barack Obama, “Remembering Timuel Black,” BarackObama, October 13, 2021, accessed October 18, 2021. https://barackobama.medium.com/remembering-timuel-black-ad39c8d7bfd5