Historian and activist Timuel Black, who died last week at 102, was remembered as a “champion” for civil rights, a “walking encyclopedia” and a “wonderful human being” at a public visitation Thursday at AA Rayner and Sons Funeral Home.
“He was a soldier in the battle for equity, fairness and equality,” 89-year-old Grace Dawson said. “He was always the person who you knew was going to be on the front line trying to make a difference and he was very unselfish to give the time he gave by devoting his whole life to this work.”
Dawson said she was friends with Black for decades and even worked alongside him in pushing for equitable changes in Chicago. The two worked closely in helping give scholarships to graduates of DuSable High School, their alma mater.
“Tim was a champion for fairness and that’s why everybody loved him,” Dawson said. “He wasn’t about himself, he wasn’t about money, he wasn’t about fame — he was about getting the job done and making life better for people of color.”
After his death Black received an outpouring of tributes celebrating his storied life.
Black fought most of his life for labor, political and civil rights. He worked alongside other leaders such as Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama. For many, Black was the authority on Chicago.
Dawson said she spoke with Black just a few days before he died and asked if there was anything he really wanted people to know.
“‘Tell them Blacks have made an outstanding contribution to life and we are about making the impossible, possible,’” Dawson said she was told to relay.
Cullis Flinn said the mood inside the funeral home was sad but also joyous considering Black lived such a full life.
“Everyone is there just to remember this giant,” Flinn said. “We all know who he is and what he has done but to show all the photos of who he’s been around really emphasized his life and his work to bring real change.”
Rosalind Adams, 64, said she met Black while she was the executive assistant for Rev. Willie T. Barrow decades ago. The two civil rights leaders shared a birthday and they would often hold parties together, Adams said.
“He was just so full of information, a walking encyclopedia in a lot of ways, especially on Chicago and just Black history,” she said. “So, it was just wonderful to sit down and talk with him because you were always going to learn something.”
When Black was still in his 90s he would still attend certain events or protests to show his support, Adams said. His primary mode of transportation? The bus.
“I would always take him home when I saw him during those days,” Adams said. “He was still so determined to come to these events to share his information. He was a wonderful human being. He will be missed. We need more like him.”
Adams hopes the younger generation can be taught about Black and what he meant for society at large. She hopes his books can become mandatory reading in schools and the story of his life helps foster the next generation of civil right leaders.
A private funeral at Black’s church, First Unitarian Church of Chicago at 5650 S. Woodlawn Ave., is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday. Rev. Michael Pfleger will give the eulogy. Other speakers include Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.