Timuel Black is spry for being almost 90. The Chicago historian, author and civil rights activist walks quickly, sidestepping patches of ice he says he’s got to watch out for these days.
Reaching Pearl’s Place in Bronzeville, Black scans across the table, making sure that he hasn’t overlooked any friends.
“Professor Black, how is your wife doing?”
“Mr. Black , I’m doing a project that I need to talk to you about.”
“Will it be the usual, Mr. Black?”
The lifelong Chicagoan, who counts the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barak Obama among his friends and colleagues, sits at a family restaurant, smiling and greeting all who pass his congenial countenance.
Black speaks matter-of-factly about King’s legacy and Obama’s eyes on the White House.
“Dr. King gave the charismatic, trusted leadership that we could accept. He was a model of what a good leader can and ought to be. He had a great deal of integrity and knowledge, and he couldn’t be frightened off. He epitomized that kind of leadership that now lays the groundwork politically around the country for the ascent of many blacks who then began to go into politics. This is a trend that has evolved.
“Now we come to see a young man, Barack Obama, who leaves what could be a very lucrative legal business, to do some organizing in Chicago, voter registration.
“He is not a radical, he is a good American.
“His eloquence, his knowledge, his background make him a perfect candidate not just for the United States of America, but for the world in general, who are looking to see: Can we, at this level, break the color line?
“It doesn’t mean that, when or if he is elected, everything will be equal. It could hardly be that way after more than 400 years of being punished. It will, however, mean that he can start the process of inclusion rather than exclusion based on race or gender or sexual preference.
“A good portion of the population doesn’t care about [King’s] legacy, because of the breakdown of communication between generations.
“That portion of the population has to be brought up to date, informed and inspired. They have to move in unity. Bring about the kind of organizational information and spirit that transcends the United States. That’s why Obama’s victory is so important. Clinton’s would be following in a tradition that can be accepted more easily.
“I keep going because I live for hopes and dreams. Somehow you young people will have to look back, and go forward, and make this world a better world.”