Chicago civil rights leader Timuel Black shares lessons from Spanish flu for COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago historian and civil rights icon Timuel Black has spent a lot of time thinking about COVID-19.

At almost 101 years old, he compares the pandemic to the Spanish flu in 1918.

The flu took his sister's life, a loss that Black says his mother never got over.

"She felt she didn't do enough to protect her baby girl," Black said.

But back then, when families suffered, Black said he remembers community groups stepped up to ease the pain, especially when that pain was so widespread.

"Almost immediately there was a response in an organized way. The NAACP and other organizations," Black said.

That's how a lot of people learned just how dangerous the Spanish flu really was.

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Today, he's calling on established neighborhood institutions, like churches, to take the lead in this latest fight.

"Organize their congregations and those congregations, then go to the wider community," Black said.

Black believes those institutions may be the best way to reach many people who don't seem to be taking the virus seriously.

"Those are the people who are in the most danger. Particularly poor people and people across racial and ethnic lines," said Black.

Black, who's also a former college professor, recently released his third book on his life and growing up in Chicago.

Ultimately, he said he's hopeful everything will work itself out.

"I'm optimistic as I have been throughout time, that trouble don't last always," Black said.
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