“God granted him 102 years… not for himself, but for us”

HYDE PARK – Generations of loved ones, political heavyweights, veteran musicians and Chicagoans of all stripes celebrated Timuel Black’s 102 years of life at his public memorial on Sunday.

Black, a Black Chicago icon who spent her life working for social and economic equality, died at her Drexel Boulevard home on October 13. His public screening and private funeral took place at the end of October.

Several hundred people gathered to share memories of Black and perform in his honor Sunday at a three-hour public memorial, one speaker compared to a public television special. The memorial was held at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave., just two days before Black turned 103.

“I can’t help but think how much Tim himself would have enjoyed this gathering and all the music,” said Zenobia Johnson-Black, his wife of four decades.

Black – an educator, activist, historian, political organizer and ubiquitous Black Chicago elder – was born to sharecroppers in Alabama on December 7, 1918. He was a born leader who, “at the age of eight months, brought his family in Chicago from Birmingham, Alabama, ”Johnson-Black joked Sunday.

In Black’s Century as a Chicagoan, he served in an all-black supply unit during World War II, taught in public schools and colleges in the city of Chicago, rallied support for Harold Washington to become the first black mayor of Chicago and passed his knowledge on to younger generations with numerous public appearances, among many other accomplishments.

Dozens of supporters, including Reverend Jesse Jackson and some attendees at Sunday’s memorial, visited Black and circled outside his home as he celebrated his 102nd and final birthday last December. He was honored as the first inductee into the Illinois Black Hall of Fame on February 26.

“I don’t mean to be irreverent in calling him the Black Forrest Gump, but everything he’s touched in this century is really amazing,” said Natalie Moore, a reporter who described herself as one of Black’s many “honorary grandchildren”. “

Credit: Maxwell Evans / Block Club Chicago
Mayor Lori Lightfoot honors Timuel Black at Black’s public memorial on December 5.

Governor JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot were among the officials present on Sunday. The two spoke about Black’s work tackling inequalities in education, the workplace, housing and politics in Chicago and across the country.

“Most of us know and can recite by name the giants on whose shoulders we stand,” said Lightfoot. “… We know that as black people we never walk through this world alone; someone sacrificed himself so that we could fulfill our God-given talent. Timuel Black was such a person to me.

Black’s other political activists and participants in labor and civil rights movements have reflected on his dedication to a multitude of causes. In 1963 alone, Black was the Midwestern coordinator for the March on Washington and helped organize the “Freedom Day” protests against the segregationist policies of the PSC.

“It was a moral gyroscope, teaching social justice far beyond his high school and college classes,” said Don Rose, a political consultant who met Black after the Rainbow Beach wading pools in the early 1960s. He served as Black’s press secretary when he ran unsuccessfully to become Alderman of 4th Quarter.

“The entire city was his classroom as he shared his wisdom and humanity as a writer, speaker and organizer – but without the constant need to search for the cameras,” Rose said.

Black spent his final years as the South Side’s premier griot. During this time, he advocated for young people to learn and perfect the organizational tools of past generations – with hope for the future mainly among them.

“I clearly remember Mr. Black telling me that this was not enough to move forward on my own and that I had a duty to advance other people who might not have the same advantages,” said Brandon Walker, an eighth-grade student from Munster, Indiana, who, at age 9, interviewed Black.

He said, ‘The door will open and get ready to come in, but keep the door open so others can come in too. “”

Black’s willingness to share openly with those working for a better world – from young people like Walker to his own peers – is a crucial part of his legacy, speakers said.

“Sir. Black is the missing link in our history,” said Jonathan Jackson, son of Reverend Jesse Jackson, as he delivered Black’s eulogy. “God granted him 102 years, not for himself, but for us. “

Credit: Maxwell Evans / Block Club Chicago
Brandon Walker, an eighth-grade student at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster, Indiana, recounts his 2018 interview with Timuel Black at the Black Public Memorial on December 5.

A renowned jazz historian who spent his final days savoring the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, Black’s love for the genre and black music was honored with several performances on Sunday. An African drum salute and a procession opened the service.

The Orbert Davis Quartet, led by the trumpeter who co-founded the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, performed Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” and “Weather Bird” – which Black saw perform at the Vendome Theater as a young boy. .

The Jazz Links alumni ensemble of the Chicago Jazz Institute also performed on Sunday. Black served on the institute’s board of directors for over 25 years, and six musicians have received financial support through a grant program from the institute named after him.

Singers Maggie and Africa Brown performed, and Dee Alexander sang a rendition of “Four Women” by Nina Simone.

An intergenerational duo of Cathy Townsend and Ajene Cooks sang the Negro spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” arranged by pianist Robert Irving III.

The Association for the Advancement of the Great Black Ensemble of Creative Musicians closed the service with “Make a Joyful Sound,” leading a second line out of the chapel and into the night.

“Most of us could only hope to witness a century on this Earth,” said Pritzker. “Timuel Black shaped his century.

Credit: Maxwell Evans / Block Club Chicago
A ten-person ensemble led by baritone saxophonist Rajiv Halim performs Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” at the Timuel Black Public Memorial on December 5th.

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Ada J. Kenney