103 years ago, Timuel D. Black, Jr. was born in Birmingham, AL. It was December 7, 1918. The importance of this date of birth can neither be overlooked nor underestimated. It is perhaps one of the most important dates in current history in that it gave birth to an individual who was a true Renaissance man. Overcoming insurmountable adversity in his private and public life, achieving achievements that most people can only dream of accomplishing, Black has traveled the world, met kings and queens, served his country, been honored by foreign friends, wrote books, taught some of today’s formidable leaders, organized and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, and worked and fought to help shaping the modern struggle for civil rights in the United States
In his neighborhood of Bronzeville, he is known as Baba (a term used in many African languages in southern Africa, with a connotation of respect attached to a highly regarded social role and age) and Griot (an oral historian West Africa). Always positive, storyteller, fighter of the good fight, protector of our history. For many, he is a cultural icon, a larger-than-life figure whose legacy spans more than 90 decades. His life journey has been to serve the country, raise a family, guarantee civil rights and support the community. So it is fitting that members of the Illinois Black Legislative Caucus through the Illinois House of Representatives issued a House resolution to recognize Timuel “Tim” D. Black, Jr., for his accomplishments and in particular for his local and national work in the civil rights movement. He deserves credit for a lifetime of unprecedented service to the community as an educator, soldier, political activist, speaker, civil rights leader, author and social historian.
Timuel D. Black set milestones and lived history. His family was part of the first great African-American migration who left the south and came to Chicago in 1919. During his formative years he attended public schools, Edmund Burke Elementary and DuSable High. He worked as a press boy for the Chicago Defender and was a delivery boy for a local grocery store during the Great Depression. Activism boiled in his blood as he became more involved in civil rights work. Timuel Black was Chicago president of the historic 1963 March on Washington; organized the “Don’t Spend Your Money Where You Can’t Work” campaign, which led to the formation of the Negro Retail Clerks Union. He helped organize the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), which worked to desegregate Chicago’s department stores and public housing; challenged the “Regular Democratic Organization” and coined the phrase “Plantation Policy”; and in 2008, was the principal plaintiff in Black v. McGuffage, a lawsuit that accused Illinois’ voting system of systemic discrimination against minorities.
Black served in the United States Army in World War II and was awarded four Battle Stars and a Croix de Guerre (the highest military honor bestowed by France on non-nationals). Returning to Chicago, he enrolled at Roosevelt University where he obtained his BA and later an MA from the University of Chicago. In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Roosevelt University. In 2010 and again in 2015, he traveled to the Netherlands and The Hague to be honored and to lecture at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day dinner at the US Embassy; and in 2012 became the first African American recipient of the University of Chicago William Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service. In 2013, the city of Chicago honored Black with the inaugural Chicago Champion of Freedom Award, in recognition of his work in the civil rights movement both locally and nationally.
During the gala celebration of his 100th birthday on December 9, 2018, he received the French Legion of Honor medal from the French Consul General in Chicago. In addition, he is the author of two of a three-book series chronicling the “great migration” and the history of Chicago from the 1920s to the present day. His memories, Sacred ground, was published in 2019 by Northwestern University Press. Black has run for public office several times and has spent his life advancing the cause of social justice. He is a pioneer of the independent black political movement and has helped, advised and supported political leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Harold Washington and former US President Barack Obama.
The contributions of his life and African American history are preserved for others to experience. In January 2012, the Timuel D. Black Jr. archives were officially inaugurated and opened to researchers; Timuel Black’s massive archive of documents, letters, books, recordings, news clips, videos and memorabilia are held in the Vivian Harsh Collection at the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library in Chicago; A 501 (c) (3) nonprofit charitable society, the Vivian G. Harsh Society, Inc. was established to help preserve the legacy of African American history for future generations. Additionally, Tim was the inaugural winner of the Illinois Black Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in Chicago (https://gsunews.govst.edu/illinois-black-hall-of-fame-launches-at-governors-state -university /), and the Civic Knowledge Project at the University of Chicago created the Timuel D. Black Community Solidarity Scholar (https://civicknowledge.uchicago.edu/solidarity-scholar-fund.shtml) on his behalf.
To those who worked with him in the trenches of the struggle; who marched, protested and campaigned; and who has shared passionate debates with him in his life, in his work, in his writings, Tim remains the tireless champion of equality, social and economic justice and empowerment. He will receive a copy of the resolution from the House of Representatives of the One Hundred and Second General Assembly of the State of Illinois to recognize these lifelong accomplishments. We can only try to imitate him and touch the sides of this “movement” of man.