Tim Black, In His Own Words

Fresh off the Memorial Day holiday and just as we mark the 77th anniversary of the Allied troops Normandy Invasion in WWII, the Vivian G. Harsh Collection and Chicago Public Library are thrilled to announce the launch of the Timuel D. Black Jr. Digital Collection. The collection contains digitized images of speeches delivered and letters written by Black. 

You might be familiar with Tim because you were his student or marched alongside him demanding social justice. You may have voted for him during his bids for city alderman or state legislator. You may have read his books of Bronzeville oral histories or his own memoir. Or even helped the city celebrate his 100th birthday in 2018.

You may also have been inspired by one of his many speeches. The speeches gathered in the digital collection span nearly four decades from the 1960s to the 1990s. Topics range from education, civil rights, racial discrimination and segregation to Chicago politics and voting rights.

The letters from Private Timuel Black to his First Sergeant brother, Walter Black, were written during the last year of Tim’s service with the 308th Quartermaster Corps, in the Railhead Company, a “forward supply” corps providing many of the services needed to support a war campaign. Black writes in his memoir that when he was initially drafted in 1943 with a letter stating he’d been “selected to serve Uncle Sam,” he sent the draft notice back stating he didn’t have an uncle named Sam. When the second draft notice arrived, his mother suggested he should probably go.

After his training and shortly after arriving in Great Britain, the 308th were on “Utah Beach” four days into the D-Day invasion. The outfit served at the Battle of the Bulge. He also witnessed first-hand the horrors of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Black’s letters to his brother touch on these activities but also express the frustration with rampant discrimination in the Armed Forces. In these letters we glimpse the sparks of Tim’s passionate and unrelenting commitment to African American civil rights and an equal and just society for all.

Further information on Tim Black can be found in the Timuel D. Black, Jr. Papers housed at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection at Woodson Regional Library.