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Civil-rights leader Timuel Black honored with ’63 March on Washington organizers

Updated: September 29, 2013 6:47AM

As he left a White House briefing Tuesday — among select civic and community leaders nationwide invited to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with a look forward toward the president’s urban agenda — Timuel Black breathed a heavy sigh.

The fact that he and other black and brown faces had filled the room — and at the behest of President Barack Obama — was evidence enough that a pendulum had swung, he said.

Black, honored in Washington with other organizers of the 1963 march during the week of commemorative events, echoed the thoughts of many others as Wednesday’s culminating “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony — featuring a speech by Obama — approached.

“There has been progress, but we’re far from fulfilling the dream,” said the 94-year-old educator, author, political and civil- rights activist and griot of Chicago’s black community, after the briefing with Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and others.

“The president’s staff were reviewing the past, and speaking to the present, encouraging us to carry the message forward in trying to fulfill the dreams of the future Dr. King expressed so eloquently 50 years ago,” Black said.

Black worked alongside the young preacher who delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the ’60s and was heavily involved in King’s Chicago Freedom Movement.

As president of the Chicago chapter of the Negro American Labor Council, founded by activist A. Phillip Randolph, he spearheaded Chicagoans’ participation in the march.

On Wednesday, Obama will speak from the same steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King electrified the crowd of 250,000 on Aug. 28, 1963. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also are scheduled to speak during the 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. event.

Tens of thousands attended Saturday’s “National Action to Realize the Dream March,” which commemorated the event that was a defining moment for the nation.

“I think if King was here on Wednesday, he’d say, ‘Alleluiah,’ ” Black said. “But not yet ‘Amen.’ ”

Event organizers, the King Center and the 50th Anniversary Coalition, are urging groups nationwide to join Wednesday’s ceremony with bell-ringing events at 3 p.m. EDT — the hour King delivered his historic address.

Black’s grandparents were slaves, and his parents were sharecroppers who came to Chicago in the Great Migration. He was honored Sunday with other 1963 march organizers at Howard University’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, by the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference.

Honored alongside him were the Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, both of whom were on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when King was assassinated in ’68; William Lucy, a labor leader with whom King worked on the strike by Memphis garbage workers; Norman and Velma Hill, who worked for the Congress on Racial Equality and were right-hand assistants to march organizers A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, and Nettie Hailes, an NAACP volunteer whose husband, the Rev. Robert Hailes, helped organize and secure audio equipment for the march.

“I’m deeply appreciative, and glad I’m still here to be honored,” Black said.

A historian and an organizer in labor and social justice movements of the ’40s and ’50s, he helped establish C.O.R.E. and the United Packinghouse Workers of America. His 1963 march efforts shepherded some 30,000 Chicagoans to Washington by train.

Black urged youths to get involved in what he says is a continuing struggle for civil rights and social justice. And at 94, he is still working on those issues.

“Everyday that I’m here, I think, ‘What am I going to do tomorrow?’ ” Black said.

Wednesday’s commemorative events in Chicago include “The March on Washington: A Youth & Young Adult Perspective,” at 6 p.m. at the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, 10406 S. Maryland.


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