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‘Truly incredible man’: Tributes pour in for Timuel Black from family, friends, colleagues

“Tim spent decades chronicling and lifting up Black Chicago history. But he also made plenty of history himself.” former President Barack Obama said.

98 year old Timuel Black marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. into Marquette Park during the 60s. Black remembers angry whites turning over cars during the demonstration for open housing. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times
Timuel Black shown here at 98 years old.
Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Tributes poured in from former colleagues, friends, admirers and more for activist, educator and historian Timuel Black, who died Wednesday at 102.

Shortly after news of Black’s passing broke, former President Barack Obama released a statement on behalf of himself and former first lady Michelle Obama.

“Over his 102 years,” Obama said, “Tim was many things: a veteran, historian, author, educator, civil rights leader, and humanitarian. But above all, Tim was a testament to the power of place, and how the work we do to improve one community can end up reverberating through other neighborhoods and other cities, eventually changing the world.

“Today, Michelle and I send our thoughts to Tim’s wife Zenobia, and everyone who loved and admired this truly incredible man.”

In a statement, Rev. Jesse Jackson called Black “a great teacher and a tall tree in the civil rights forest,” adding that he was also “a devotee of Dr. King’s work and those who worked on his staff.”

“Tim embraced us as his younger brothers and sisters,” Jackson said in his statement. “We all have a profound admiration for Tim Black.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) said the activist was at “the heartbeat of the Black community, the Chicago community, the national community, and the international community,” from Nelson Mandela’s struggle and eventual election in South Africa to Obama’s historic presidential win in 2008.

“One of my favorite memories of Tim was being present when he was telling Herbie Hancock about his relationship with Herbie’s father and seeing the glean in Herbie Hancock’s eyes as he told the story,” Rush recalled in his statement. “Tim’s enthusiasm as an author and educator was inspiring, and his impact is utterly incalculable.”

Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), who has known Black for more than 50 years, said in a statement, “Tim wrote the book on what it means to be an activist, scholar, researcher, politician and fully engaged person. My family and I extend condolences to his wife Zenobia and other family members.”

Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton described the activist in a statement as a force, a beacon and a hero. “From his work organizing Chicago for the 1963 March on Washington to fighting for voting rights here in Illinois, he changed the world one step at a time,” she said. “That spirit lives on to this day and should inspire us all.”

Ald. Pat Dowell worked closely with Black, who was a member of the DuSable High School Alumni Coalition, on several education issues, including getting the school a landmark designation. In a statement, she said he considered Black a mentor, advisor and dear friend. “My sincere condolences to his wife, Zenobia, and all who loved and admired him,” she said. “We lost a pillar of our community today. His legacy will live on.”

Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor at St. Sabina in Auburn Gresham, wrote on Twitter, “Chicago lost an Icon today. TIMUEL BLACK was a Historian. Activist, and friend. He sought to make the World a more Just, fair and Better Place...Nobody knew more about Chicago’s Black History than him...Rest in Power my friend.”

The Chicago Teachers Union also released a statement, mourning Black’s death and acknowledging his many contributions.

“Above all else, he has served as a central pillar in the abiding struggle for racial and economic equity in the city of Chicago and across the nation,” the statement said. “He has been a mentor, advocate and voice of hope for countless Chicagoans and people of conscience, giving his entire life to service that supports the needs of the many and the common good of all.”