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Dr. Conrad Worrill, a man for all seasons

Dr. Worrill used his vast knowledge of African, American and world history to fight racial bigotry and discrimination.

Besides being a superstar black nationalist in the tradition of Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, Dr. Conrad Worrill was a professor, a political organizer, an education advocate, a black institution builder, an accomplished athlete, a radio talk-show host, a newspaper columnist, (whose articles appeared in black newspapers across the country), and a TV commentator.
Bob Black/Sun-Times file photo

I was never sure what to call Dr. Conrad Worrill when I sourced him on a story.

Frankly, I had to go through a long list of titles he rightfully earned before settling on one that wouldn’t take up a paragraph.

Besides being a superstar black nationalist in the tradition of Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, Worrill was a professor, a political organizer, an education advocate, a black institution builder, an accomplished athlete, a radio talk-show host, a newspaper columnist, (whose articles appeared in black newspapers across the country), and a TV commentator.

If there was a controversy brewing that impacted the black community, you could be sure that Worrill was somewhere in the backroom fully enmeshed in the fight.

And he firmly believed that black people needed to take control of the narrative if they wanted the true history of blacks in America to be passed down, uncorrupted, to their children and their children’s children.

His vast knowledge of African, American and world history equipped him to spar with white folks over issues such as reparations for slavery, and the inclusion of African-Centered education in public schools.

In 1997, when reparations was considered a pipe dream by many, Worrill led a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland, to formally charge the U.S. government with genocide and human rights violations, boosting the work of N’Cobra, (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations).

Worrill was proud of being a black radical and was at the top of the newsroom “call list” when racial issues popped up.

I met him very early in my newspaper career.

I had called him up for a quote on a racial flare-up. After considering my questions, he asked me to come to his office, located in what is now the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, to give me some perspective.

To say I was intimidated is an understatement.

After all, I was working for what black folks deemed the “white newspaper.”

During one testy episode, Worrill had been at the forefront of a fallout that had black business owners tossing the Sun-Times back on the paper’s doorstep.

That day, Worrill walked me through the history of black activism in the city, a lesson that I didn’t get in journalism school.

Fiery and unabashedly pro-black, Worrill wanted to make sure I took down his words without softening them up.

From time to time, he would call me up when a controversy was brewing and share the narrative that he felt no other reporter from mainstream press was interested in covering.

This relationship was a two-way street.

Worrill had the private number of everyone and anyone who represented black people’s interests.

If he couldn’t fill in the gaps of my knowledge, he knew who could.

Worrill was among the longest surviving black activists in the country, having co-founded the National Black United Front in the 1980s, an organization dedicated to the struggle for black self-determination.

After retiring as director of the Carruthers Center, Worrill took over a leadership role at the Black United Fund of Illinois when his close friend, Henry English, the long-time CEO, passed away in 2016.

Worrill’s last crusade, however, was the one perhaps nearest to his heart.

A former track star, Worrill used his negotiating skills to convince then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel to invest in the development of an Indoor Track & Field facility in Pullman.

He was motivated, he told me, by an incident in which he saw a suspected carjacker sprint away from the scene at an incredible speed.

My gratitude goes out to Worrill’s wife and his daughters for sharing him with black people all over the world.

Many Chicagoans will remember Worrill for the various roles he played in uplifting his people.

I will always remember him as a friend.