Timuel Black donates papers to Chicago library

The ‘face of black Chicago’ has donated his papers to the Chicago Public Library.

January 18, 2012

(WBEZ/Bill Healy)
Timuel Black donated papers to the Chicago Public Library.

Timuel Black — civil rights activist, historian, author, and professor — has given more than 250 archival boxes to the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature at Woodson Regional Library, a part of the Chicago Public Library system.

“I am very honored to have this opportunity to share the garbage that I’ve accumulated throughout time and more to come,” Black joked at the unveiling on Wednesday.

Black, 93, is the grandson of slaves. He has written extensively on the black migration from the South to Chicago. His famous books are volumes entitled “Bridges of Memory.”

In 1960 Black was influential in founding the Negro American Labor Council, which formed to fight discrimination within the AFL-CIO, a federation of trade unions. Black also worked with A. Phillip Randolph on labor issues. Among the organizations Black worked with are: Independent Voters of Illinois, Teachers for Integrated Schools and the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights. Black worked to elect Mayor Harold Washington (Chicago’s first black mayor) and President Barack Obama.

Black’s archives contain manuscripts, funeral programs, photographs, correspondence and memorabilia. A quarter of Black’s archives relate to jazz, including his interviews with jazz musicians.

“Growing up in the periods that I have grown up gave me feelings that those experiences that we can share with others will help to enlighten and enrich their lives,” Black said.

In the 1960s, Black recalled dating a woman who scoffed at all the paperwork he piled in his Hyde Park home. She told him to throw some of his junk out. He did. In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Black searched for a letter the civil rights leader sent to him about coming to Chicago. Black realized he had thrown that letter out.

“I promised I’d never throw anything out anymore. So come by my house. You’ll be able to get in if you slide in,” Black said.

The Harsh Collection is the largest of its kind in the Midwest. It’s named after the first black librarian in the Chicago Public Library system. Naturally, Black knew her.