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Making Positive Change

Timuel Black, Civil rights activist and historian
BA in Sociology ('52)
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photo of Timuel Black at Roosevelt's 2016 Civil Rights Conference

Timuel Black has a long history of service, both to his country and community. Born in Birmingham, Alabama on Dec. 7, 1918, Black and his family moved to Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood when he was less than a year old.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Black served in the 308th Quartermaster Railhead Company in the U.S. Army as a 23-year-old. He survived the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, two of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

Black watched many African Americans fight and die to preserve American freedom in the war and was shocked upon returning to Chicago that it remained a segregated city. He became firmly committed to the ideals of public service, political equality and social activism from that moment on. Black’s former employer, Metropolitan Assurance Company, fired him after he attempted to organize the agents into a union.

Black came to Roosevelt University in 1949.

“Roosevelt was the first university that publically made it clear they wanted an integrated college,” Black said.

“Roosevelt was very inclusive. The faculty had very prestigious educational backgrounds and they came to be on the faculty at Roosevelt because of it,” he said. “A reason to go to Roosevelt was because it was so openly inclusive, but the faculty were of such a superior quality that they were the reason to stay.”

Black graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, and went on to earn a master’s from the University of Chicago.

Black is still a civil rights activist to this day. From the early days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving speeches in South Chicago to the successful efforts in bringing the Barack Obama Presidential Center to the city, Black has been there.

Black, who has been a regular donor to Roosevelt for nearly 30 years, stresses how important it is to give back.

“Roosevelt educated not only the students but the community as well. There was outreach of civil rights and civil liberties,” Black said. “It’s just a wonderful place to be — academically, socially and culturally — because we share diverse cultures, across class, race and others. We share that across one another.”

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