The arc of Timuel Black Jr.’s life is long, covering most of the 20th century and all we've seen of the 21st. Along the way, the 102-year-old labor organizer, educator, author and freedom fighter has witnessed pivotal events in American and African American history.
As an infant, he survived the influenza pandemic of 1918. He was part of the Great Migration, which brought his family north from Alabama to Chicago. As an Army soldier in World War II, he battled Hitler abroad and segregation at home. During the civil rights movement, he led a contingent to the March on Washington in 1963.
He counts former President Barack Obama as a protege, supports the Black Lives Matter movement and is experiencing another pandemic, COVID-19.
“Though the struggle goes on, I am encouraged by younger generations, in particular, across races and gender,” Black told USA TODAY in a phone interview. “They’re fighting to make things better economically, socially, politically for everyone, not just for themselves.”
The country is grappling with concurrent crises that have disproportionately shaken Black Americans: COVID-19, economic instability and resurgent racism.
Four years of a White House occupied by President Donald Trump emboldened bigotry, exposing deep racial divides and simmering resentment. The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others ignited nationwide and global protests last year. In a nation devastated by the coronavirus, the racial unrest felt like “a match dropped into a powder keg of grief,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.