Public Timuel Black memorial held for late civil rights leader at UChicago Sunday

Governor JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other praised the legacy he built

ByMichelle Gallardo and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Monday, December 6, 2021
Public Timuel Black memorial held for late Civil Rights leader at UChicago Sunday
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The University of Chicago is holding a public Tim Black memorial Sunday for the late Civil Rights leader.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The University of Chicago is hosting a public memorial for civil rights leader Timuel Black Sunday afternoon.

The historian, author and educator died in October at the age of 102.

The service began at 3:30 p.m. at the Rockefeller memorial chapel, on campus.

"It's so appropriate we be here. Tim loved Hyde Park and the University of Chicago," said Julieanna Richardson with the Historymakers.

Rockefeller Chapel is where dignitaries and former alumnae from his days as a high school teacher came to remember Black during a public service open to everyone.

"It was on this site in 1956 that Martin Luther King, Jr. held his first major speech in Chicago. A speech, Tim made possible," said Robert J. Zimmer, chancellor for the University of Chicago.

Black was the son of an Alabama sharecroppers and grew up in Bronzeville, which was known at the time as Chicago's "Black Belt." He dedicated his life to fighting for racial and economic justice.

He was equal parts civil rights activist, history teacher and political mentor to many of the city's top African American figures, from Harold Washington to Barack Obama.

The service itself opened with a traditional African drum salute. Jazz, which Black loved, has been a central component of the day's tribute. The performances were interspersed between speakers, which included Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Governor J.B. Pritzker, who remembered Black as a man who shaped the century he lived through.

"He took on the State of Illinois, helping to elect the first Black mayor, the first Black woman, and the first Black president of the United States," Pritzker said. ""He never lost sight of the community that grounded him... by insisting he was better than no one he became the best of us."

SEE MORE: Timuel Black funeral: Private service for Chicago civil rights activist

"We know that as Black folks, we never pass through this world alone. Someone sacrifice for us to fulfill our God-given talent. Timuel Black was one such person for me," Lightfoot said. "His footprints were ahead of me on my path and he carried the bright lantern as I forged into the unknown."

It's not just dignitaries who were present at the memorial, but many of those who were touched by Timuel Black throughout their lives, including some of his alumna from his days teaching at DuSable High School.

"Timuel Black was a historian who knew history, who taught history, and who shaped history in this city and this world," Father Michael Pfleger said.

He became someone, who even in his late 90's, would grant an interview to a young 4th grader looking to learn more about the icon he so admired.

"He told me about being a high school teacher in Gary, where the school system was based on race and class. Some of my students were discouraged from being successful and my goal was to teach them to be as smart as anybody," said Brandon Walker, a student at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster, Indiana.

He was a man, who at the end of his very long life, looked back with gratitude, alongside the woman he loved.

"Tim truly loved his life, it was a great life," his widow Zenobia Johnson-Black said. "He would often say, 'I've done the best I could. We couldn't accomplish everything, there's still so much to do,' but he had no guilt, no regrets about his life work and therefore was at peace with himself. He had lived up to his own standards."

Organzers said the event was at capacity before it began Sunday, limiting the general public due to COVID protocols.