By LINDSAY WELBERS
Venerated historian, teacher and civil rights activist Timuel Black was honored in Washington, D.C., on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Black, 94, traveled to the nation’s capital to receive the honor last month. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Black to organize locally to bring Chicagoans to the March on Washington in 1963.
Valerie Jarrett and Eric Holder, both members of Barack Obama’s administration, were present at the ceremony, though the president was not.
Black’s professional trajectory has been inextricably linked to Hyde Park, from the Herald’s endorsement of Black during his race for Fourth Ward aldeman to the many Hyde Parkers who supported his efforts to organize the Chicago presence at the 1963 March on Washington.
Black, who spent the bulk of his career as an educator, also spoke to a group of students at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference Dinner.
“Dr. King personified the possibility of change,” Black said. “But being prepared to help make that change and that for them … that meant getting the academic as well as the social skills, so that when the change came they would be prepared to take advantage of [it].”
Black told the students that “when the change came to be prepared to walk into the newly open door and to help open doors [for others].”
Black said among the biggest differences between the 50th anniversary celebration and the 1963 March on Washington was the diversity of each event’s participants.
“Particularly young people who were present at the 50th year memorial,” Black said. “There were Africans, there were Asians, Native Americans. The participation was very, very large and very diverse.”
King contacted Black, who was then one of the leaders and founders of the Negro American Labor Council, and asked him to organize in Chicago for the 1963 march.
Among Black’s most vivid memories from the 1963 march, aside from King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech, was the fear that things would turn violent.
Author Studs Terkel traveled with Black and others from Chicago to D.C.
“He went to the streets to talk with people, whites on the streets of D.C., to get some idea of what their impressions were,” Black said. “According to his tapes, people thought there would be a race riot … There was a belief among some of the people, whites in D.C., there would be a race riot because Washington, D.C., at that time was very violent towards Blacks and whites who were fighting for equal rights and justice. They thought some of the people in D.C. would start and we would fight back violently, but we were committed to the idea of passive resistance.”
The fight for equal rights has made life better for many people, Black said, but not everyone has benefitted.
The middle class has benefitted from quality education leading to better jobs and more economic prosperity since the 1963 march, he said.
“But for many others it has not been very good and in some cases, many cases, too many, it has gotten worse because of the lack of quality education,” Black said.
The younger generation, those graduating from high school and college, will need to be ready to take the reins and in the fight towards equal rights, according to Black.
“There have been positive changes and others believe those changes are possible and they have a responsibility to help make those possible,” Black said.