Special Report: How history will remember Timuel Black

Timuel Black is known as one of Chicago's greatest African-American historians.

He passed away four months ago just before his 103rd birthday.

From the time he was born, it seemed Black was destined to be a part of history.

He was born on Dec. 7, 1918 — a date that later became known for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

He was also born during a pandemic and died during a pandemic. 

"Tim said he never intended to become part of history — just wanted people to understand how we can make the world a better place in the future," said Warren K. Chapman, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Chicago History Museum.

He tried to do that by working with some of the greatest Civil Rights leaders in U.S. history, helping to organize events like the March on Washington, and the March from Montgomery to Selma.

He also made some significant history right here in Chicago on Oct. 22, 1963.

"About 200 and some thousand students stayed out of school — it was the largest demonstration around Civil Rights and education in the country, and the first large one in the north at the time," said Chapman. "And I was one of the kids that stayed out of school."

Chapman is now the Vice Chair of the Chicago History Museum's Board of Trustees. He knew Black both personally and professionally. 

Chapman says that boycott — also known as "Freedom Day" — opened up the country's eyes to see how widespread the battle for Civil Rights was at that time.

"This struggle for Civil Rights was always viewed as a fight in the southern states — about voting rights and education and equal opportunity," said Chapman. "But it was those issues here too.


Black went on to write more chapters in Chicago and political history.

He worked on Harold Washington's mayoral election campaign, and Carol Mosely Braun's senate campaign.

He also mentored a future president: Barack Obama.

But that's not all.

"The marches with Dr. King and his involvement in bringing Dr. King to Chicago for that well-known visit and walk through Marquette Park," said Peri Irmer, President of the DuSable Museum of African American History. "He'll be remembered here as an amazing community organizer. As one who could speak to all ages and all generations."

In addition to all that he witnessed on the Civil Rights front, Black was also one of the American soldiers who liberated concentration camps during World War II.

"What he saw with his eyes, what he remembered, what he could speak to directly, were simply amazing first-hand stories and accounts," said Irmer.

Even as he prepared to close his final chapter, Irmer says Black made it clear the struggle was going to continue. 

"I went to visit Tim shortly before his passing," said Irmer. " And he said to me that we have to tell our youth, we have to tell the young people to keep on keeping on."

Black died on Oct. 13, 2021 at his home on Drexel Boulevard.