Timuel Black died on October 13, just a couple months before his 103rd birthday. In addition to being a scholar, a historian, and a mentor to Presidents, Tim was a strategic organizer and activist. And, Tim was a decades-long board member of Defending Rights & Dissent, as well as our sister organization the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights (CCDBR).
“Tim’s joviality, and his keen insights will be sorely missed here at Defending Rights and Dissent,” DRAD President Sascha Meinrath said. “His first-hand knowledge of so many critical Civil Rights battles — and his ability to interweave the lessons-learned during these historic moments, with a contemporary critical assessment of today’s social and racial injustices — provided a rich backdrop to many of our strategy meet-ups. Tim’s decades of work have touched and saved many lives; the world lost a great champion for justice with his passing.”
Tim traced his roots with the organization all the way back to the 1960’s when he and the founder of CCDBR, Dick Criley, were engaged in civil rights and labor struggles together in Chicago. Tim understood the importance of safeguarding civil liberties in order to advance civil rights and economic justice. He joined the boards of both CCDBR and the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation (known more commonly as NCARL, and which eventually, through several name changes and mergers along the way, became Defending Rights & Dissent).
Esther Herst, who joined the staff of CCDBR in 1971 before becoming the Director of NCARL’s Washington office shared her memories of Tim:
When I began work with the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, I was an impressionable and idealistic 19 year old. Tim Black was a mentor and a teacher. Like so many of his generation – men and women who braved the black-list and survived to continue their work for justice, equality and peace – he believed in sharing his knowledge and experience with the younger generations. He never looked down upon those of us who were still learning about the struggles to build a better world. Instead he lived his life as a model of steadfast resolve, sharp and intelligent strategizing, and compassion for all who are challenged by discrimination, hatred and ignorance. He had a glorious smile, a terrific sense of humor, and a dedication that was an inspiration to millions who knew him or knew of his work. Leaders like Tim Black are rare and deserve our deepest thanks.
Rachel Rosen DeGolia, who was Executive Director of the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights from 1974 until 1991 was also deeply appreciative of Tim’s generosity and mentorship:
“In addition to his wonderful lifetime of struggling and standing up for civil rights and civil liberties, Tim Black always made the time to mentor young organizers, myself included. He was wise, kind and easy to talk with. His personal courage and principled defense of what was right at all times was a terrific inspiration for so many people.”
Kit Gage, former Executive Director the of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation and the First Amendment Foundation, recalls:
Tim understood better than most that it was his job not only to stand up for the rights of African Americans including his own, but at the same time to be there for every oppressed person. That we are strong only together. He was very serious in his advocacy for civil rights and made a remarkable impact in Chicago, which was all the more amazing considering how self-effacing he was as a person. Pretty rare for someone in that role. And he was a sweetie.
DRAD’s current Executive Director, Sue Udry, first worked with Tim in the early 1990’s when she was director of CCDBR
“I’ve known, and looked up to Tim for three decades. I learned so much from him over the years, and know I am one of the lucky ones to have been able to work closely with him for so long. His charm and wisdom, patience and willingness to share his experiences with those coming up has made him an invaluable and cherished leader of both Defending Rights & Dissent and Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights.”
In addition to being a constant presence at Defending Rights & Dissent for decades, Tim was a dedicated activist for a number of important causes, most notably civil rights and labor rights. Tim organized alongside Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King, served as president of the Chicago branch of the Negro American Labor Council, helped to found the Congress on Racial Equality and the United Packinghouse Workers of America, and organized the Chicago contingent of the March on Washington for Job and Freedom.
Tim was born in the Jim Crow South the son of sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves. Within the first year of life, Tim and his family relocated to Chicago, the city he would call home for the next century. Tim loved his city deeply and was active in documenting its history.
Tim served in the military during World War II. He was present at the invasion of Normandy and witnessed the horrors of the Buchenwald extermination camp firsthand.
Tim was a prolific fighter for justice. He led an extraordinary life, participating in some of history’s most significant events. While Tim will never be forgotten, his presence will be greatly missed.