HYDE PARK— Family, friends and local political and religious leaders honored the life and service of activist, educator and cultural icon Timuel Black at his funeral Friday morning.
Black, who died Oct. 13 at 102, dedicated his life to fighting for social, racial and economic equality for the Black community. Aside from his community work, he also supported the careers of several Black politicians, including Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago, and President Barack Obama.
The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Black was born Dec. 7, 1918. His family moved to Chicago when he was as an infant in 1919, settling in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
Blacks’ funeral, only open to family and invited guests, was held at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago, 5650 S. Woodlawn Ave. Father Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina Church, gave the eulogy.
“Timuel had a smile that was full of love and kindness and humility — a smile that would put you at ease even while he was challenging you,” Pfleger said. “He had an unquenchable spirit of hope and he had a tenacity to never quit.”
Many gave their condolences to Black’s widow, Zenobia Johnson-Black, children and family members during remarks. Musical performances from singers Dee Alexander, Tammy McCann and others reflected his well-known love of jazz.
Throughout the service, attention was drawn to Black’s impact and legacy as a civil rights activist, WWII veteran and educator.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lighfoot said his final moments had a profound impact on her.
“Before his passing, I got the call from Zenobia that his time was short, and I was honored to be invited to come and say a final goodbye,” Lightfoot said. “I brought some music, a compilation of Ella (Fitzgerald) and Louis (Armstrong), because I wanted his send-off to be accompanied by a soundtrack of the music that he loved. He was still alert enough to know that I was present. But it was clear that he was entering his journey home.
“I sat at his feet, the feet of this great man,” Lightfoot said, choking up, “who has nurtured and cared for so many. We didn’t talk much but I was moved to touch his feet — those white socks, there for his comfort and warmth. And I saw not just the great Tim Black but in my head, I was transported to some of my last precious moments with my own father.
I prayed to the Lord to make my friend Tim, his final moments, pain-free, to lift the burdens of this world and to bring him to eternal peace.”
Michael Strautmanis, the executive vice president for civic engagement at the Obama Foundation spoke on behalf of the Obamas, who weren’t able to attend.
“He taught me that this journey that we’re all on is a relay race and in a relay race, your job is to run … well, but to also know that part of your job is to hand off the baton to the next runner and to put them in the best possible position to start their part of the journey,” Strautmanis said. “That’s what Timuel Black did for so many of us. So as we honor Tim, I think the greatest tribute will be in the way we invest in the generations ahead of us.”
Pfleger also stressed the importance of continuing Black’s legacy.
“Now it is up to you and I, to not just come here to honor and remember him, but it is you and I have the honor of sitting in his presence over these 102 years and glean from his wisdom — it is up to you and I to pick up the mantle of Timuel Black, to water and fertilize the seeds that he planted in us and to help them grow and help them blossom.
“We never needed a Timuel Black more in this world than right now and we need to pick up the mantle so that we must carry his mission forward to demand justice, to fight for freedom. … Yes, the arc bends towards justice. But we’ve got to pull it down.”
Wendy Walker Williams, the executive director of community partnerships at the University of Chicago, briefly spoke on behalf of the Black family, who thanked everyone for the many condolences, emails, cards, text messages, food and flowers and more they’ve received since Black’s passing.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun and several others also spoke of the late activist’s work.
A public memorial for Black is planned for Dec. 5 at Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.
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