CHICAGO – Labor organizer, educator, author and civil rights activist Timuel Black Jr. died Wednesday. He was 102.
Black entered hospice care in his South Side Chicago home more than two weeks ago, his wife, Zenobia Johnson-Black, told USA TODAY.
Johnson-Black stated, “I want to celebrate his death every day of mine,” He was determined to make the world better. And that’s what he urged others to do. That’s the way I want him to be remembered.
Former President Barack Obama said “the world lost an icon” with Black’s passing Wednesday.
Tim spent many decades documenting and elevating Black Chicago history. But he also made plenty of history himself,” Obama said in a statement. Black attended Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
Obama declared that Tim, over the course of his 102 year career, was many things. He was a historian, writer, humanitarian, educator and civil rights leader. Tim, above all, was an example of the power that place can exert on others and change the world.
Black, the grandson of slave people, survived as an infant the 1918 influenza pandemic. In 1919, his family moved from Alabama to Chicago. They arrived shortly after the tragic race riots.
Black was an elementary student in 1926, when his father took him along to a local YMCA where Carter G. Woodson introduced the first Negro History Week. This week evolved into Black History Month.
USA TODAY reported that he said “It is an honor to have been there from the beginning.”
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Black, an Army soldier who served in World War II faced discrimination when he rose through the ranks. However, he was awarded four bronze battle star. Black was a part of the Normandy Invasion and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. After liberation, he visited Buchenwald concentration camp. He said that those experiences changed his life.
“When bombs were dropping and boys were shooting – I don’t believe world wars are the answer, but I was there – I believed“I believed that I would somehow return home. Therefore, when I witnessed the devastation that can be done to other people by human beings, I felt that I had a responsibility for bringing about change. Peace, justice, equality,” Black stated to USA TODAY in February.
When he returned, Black attended Roosevelt University in Chicago and received a degree in sociology in 1952. He received a master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1954 and later taught at the City Colleges of Chicago.
He inserted himself into the fight for equality barely a year later, after seeing a young Dr. Martin Luther King preach on television in December 1955 about the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
Black stated in his autobiography, Sacred Ground that “that was it” for him. “I got on board a plane to fly down to Montgomery. It was amazing.
Black commuted from Alabama to Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s in order to support King’s movements.
Both men had a close relationship. King called him “TD” and “Brother Black.” Black called him “Doc.”
Black wrote in his book, “I was older and he treated my as an older brother; His attitude was respectful and I felt kinship, honor.”
Black was a passionate labor organizer in the 1960s. Black was the President of Chicago’s Negro American Labor Council chapter, which was founded by A Philip Randolph.
Black was a prominent figure in civil rights. King asked him in 1963 to mobilise thousands of Chicagoans via train and charter buses to Washington, DC for the March for Jobs and Freedom.
Black was also a key player in King’s civil rights campaign up North, in 1966. This protested the Chicago housing segregation.
Black helped to elect Harold Washington, the first Black Mayor of Chicago. On his 100th birthday in 2018, Black received the French Legion of Honor medal.
Black was present at the protests against police brutality and racial injustice last year. He said he saw a direct throughline from the civil rights movement to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Black said that even though the battle continues, he is encouraged by younger generations, especially across race and gender. “They’re fighting to make things better economically, socially, politically for everyone, not just for themselves.”
Black, who was the first to be inducted into The Illinois Black Hall of Fame in January of this year.
Johnson-Black expressed gratitude to people across the nation Wednesday for the “all the love and support” that was shown their family during Black’s last days.
Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., said Black was the first activist he ever knew.
He was my mentor. He’s my #1 activist in America,” Davis said.
Davis said that Black was a dedicated educator who pushed students to continue in school, despite any obstacles.
He said, “I have met so many people who claimed that Tim made them stay at school even though they were ready to drop out or quit.”
Davis stated that people had known this day was coming, but he is grateful to have been able to work for Black so many years.
He said that Tim was “so big and so ubiquitous” that he simply dedicated his entire life to helping others. He tried to improve the world. “He wanted the world to become the utopia he had hoped and dreamed of.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement she was “deeply saddened” to hear of Black’s passing.
“Dr. Black represents the best of Chicago. It will be forever remembered his work in education, empowerment, and empowerment of our communities. Foxx said, “We are stronger because he stood up for us.”