Timuel Black Jr. discusses his new memoir chronicling his decades-long civil rights career in Chicago


Source: The University of Chicago

Timuel Black Jr., a legendary civil rights activist, spoke about his over 70 years of civil rights work at Evanston Public Library on Sunday.

Eva Jacobs, Reporter

Legendary civil rights activist Timuel Black Jr. spoke about his over 70 years of civil rights work Sunday afternoon at the Evanston Public Library as part of the 2019 Evanston Literary Festival.

Black discussed his book, “Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black,” with an audience of around 50 people. He was joined by Bart Schultz, the book’s editor and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago, and Bennett Johnson, a fellow Evanston-based civil rights activist and good friend.

Black said he wrote “Sacred Ground” to inspire young people, regardless of “race or gender, or any of those things that tend to divide people,” and help them be aware of how the world is changing socially and politically so they can figure out what role they want to play in shaping that change. He said he tells his story to encourage young people to strive towards a higher purpose and use their resources.

“You can make that change more what you would like for it to be, wherever you happen to be,” Black said.

The memoir recounts the almost 100 years he spent living on the South Side of Chicago after his family fled there in 1919 during the first wave of the Great Migration. When Black was only eight months old, he said his family left his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama as a result of violence and discrimination against African Americans. He discussed how that generation of African Americans fled with the hope of a better future, and better opportunities for their children.

Black and Johnson discussed their respective childhoods and their joint work during the civil rights movement. The two met at Roosevelt College, and their friendship has spanned decades of joint work in the civil rights movement. Black called Johnson “an inspiration and a model.”

Both men helped King organize the March on Washington in 1963, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Black also discussed the accomplishments of former President Barack Obama, his friend and mentee. He said Obama’s presidency would not have been possible without the work of past generations of black people.

“We opened that door, and he was ready to walk in,” Black said.

Black also stressed the importance of young black people continuing to walk through that door, and continuing to work towards a more inclusive world, regardless of what barriers they may face.

He reminded all generations — especially young people — to have faith in this cause and to trust change can be brought about through continued social and political action.

Rick Parris, who attended the talk, said Black’s book and speech resonated with him. Parris agreed today’s youth can learn from Black’s generation and their recognition of “the importance of educating their youth and progressing.”

Parris said he believes “more should be done in the African American community to make sure that young people are aware of the opportunities they have,” whether those be educational, political or professional.

Evanston resident Mary Willis said she has followed Black’s career in activism for decades, along with with her husband, who is only 10 years Black’s junior. Willis said she and her husband, who are in an interracial marriage, have looked up to local activists throughout their relationship.

“It is amazing what Black has done in his long life, and how many amazing African American activists there are in Chicago,” Willis said.

Despite Black’s age and the fact that he has already written a memoir, he assured attendees he is not done with his work yet. Black said he intends to continue to work in the Chicago area to bring about the bright future that he has always envisioned.

He said he holds events like the one on Sunday to continue to inspire others to shape the world into the kind of world they want to live in.

“I hope that this conversation has been helpful to your thinking, and stimulating as well as informative and demanding of you,” Black said as he wrapped up his talk. “What kind of world do you want this to be?”

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