Timuel Black, civil rights activist and Chicago historian, dead at 102

CHICAGO — Timuel Black, a civil rights activist, educator and historian, died in Chicago. He was 102.

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Black’s death was confirmed on Wednesday by his wife of 40 years, Zenobia Johnson-Black, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“I just can’t imagine life without him,” Johnson-Black told the newspaper. “He’s been so supportive and has been my protector, my confidant. I miss him already.

“Tim left his mark on this city, on his friends who knew him and on those who knew of him, and he would like for his legacy to be an inspiration to people who are trying to make this world a better place, because that’s all he tried to do.”

Black was a retired sociology and anthropology professor with City Colleges of Chicago, a former Chicago Public Schools high school history teacher and a pioneer in the independent Black political movement, according to the Sun-Times. He also coined the phrase “plantation politics.”

Black was called the “senior statesman of Chicago’s South Side,” according to the Chicago Tribune. He wrote multiple books and was present at numerous pivotal events in American and world history, the newspaper reported.

“I consider Dec. 7, 1918, a famous day in history,” Black said, referring to his birthday.

Black fought at Normandy and at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp, the Tribune reported. He led voter registration initiatives, worked with organized labor and stood on picket lines with teachers. The civil rights activist also supported Black student leaders in Chicago and the building of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side.

“Today, the city of Chicago and the world lost an icon with the passing of Timuel Black,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Tim spent decades chronicling and lifting up Black Chicago history. But he also made plenty of history himself.”

Black marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago during the 1960s and helped get Harold Washington elected as the city’s first Black mayor in 1983, WBBM reported.

He worked with King in 1960 to help protest housing issues for poor residents in Chicago’s West Side, WLS reported. Three years later, Black helped organize the Chicago contingent that would attend the historic March on Washington, the television station reported.

The youngest of three children, Timuel Dixon Black came to Chicago with his family from Birmingham, Alabama, where he was born. He attended an integrated Burke Elementary School before graduating in 1935 from all-Black DuSable High, the Sun-Times reported. His classmates included Johnson Publishing Co. founder John H. Johnson, singer Nat King Cole, and Archibald Carey Jr., who was the first African American delegate to the United Nations, according to the newspaper.

“Tim embraced us as his younger brothers and sisters,” longtime civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a statement on Wednesday. “We all have a profound admiration for Tim Black. He is an icon of rare vintage.”

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