City to Honor Civil Rights Activist Timuel Black

By Wendell Hutson on January 17, 2013 2:25pm | Updated on January 17, 2013 2:53pm

 Historian and civil rights activist Timuel Black will be honored Friday at the city's 27th Annual Interfaith Breakfast with the first-ever Champion of Freedom Award.
Historian and civil rights activist Timuel Black will be honored Friday at the city's 27th Annual Interfaith Breakfast with the first-ever Champion of Freedom Award.
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Timuel Black

CHICAGO — The city's 27th Annual Interfaith Breakfast will feature more than religious, political and community leaders from across Cook County breaking bread this year.

It'll feature a champion.

The Friday morning breakfast in the Grand Ballroom of the downtown Hilton Towers will bestow the Champion of Freedom Award on an individual whose roots have made a difference in the lives of fellow Chicagoans.

The first honoree: 94-year-old historian, educator and activist Timuel Black.

"We wanted to do something different this year at the breakfast," said Ivy Hall, festival program manager for the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which hosts the annual breakfast.

Black, she said, "is one of the most influential civil rights leaders in Chicago."

Black, a World War II veteran, said he was humbled.

"It is always an honor to be recognized for the work you have done while still alive to appreciate it," said Black. "I have always put my best foot forward when doing something, and nothing brings me more joy than working on behalf of my people."

The city also will honor Black by naming a street after him. A ceremony at 50th and State streets in Bronzeville will be held Saturday afternoon, said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd). A public reception at DuSable High School, 4934 S. Wabash Ave., where Black is an alumnus, will follow the street sign unveiling.

As a historian, Black said he has seen a lot in Chicago and the world, and has especially fond memories of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He said his fondest memory of King was listening to him deliver his historic "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington, D.C.

"I stood there in tears as I listened to this man talk about peace and equality, not just for blacks, but for all people," recalled Black. "Dr. King was a great speaker, and I was inspired by his work, which is why I dedicated myself to helping his cause and organizing marches in Chicago when he was in town."

Black's own story includes working with fellow black activists Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois and worked to desegregate Chicago public schools. A socialist, he was a labor organizer in a variety of industries. He also authored "Bridges of Memory," a two-volume history of black Chicago.

A father and husband, Black resides in the Kenwood neighborhood on the South Side. He listens mostly to jazz and blues music "because I am not a TV fan, although I do watch the news," said Black.

Up at 7 a.m. and in bed at 10 p.m., Black said he stays busy every day so that when his life is over, "I want to leave here knowing I did my best to help my people and leave a lasting impression for the next generation of leaders to be proud of."

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