All of Professor Black’s grandparents, including the grandmother who helped raise him, had been enslaved. His father, known as Dixie, worked as a sharecropper in the South and at steel mills and stockyards in Chicago until the Great Depression, when he did odd jobs for neighbors. Professor Black’s mother, Mattie (McConner) Black, was a homemaker.
Professor Black was drafted into the Army in 1943 and fought on D-Day and in the Battle of the Bulge. Before his honorable discharge, he also visited the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany.
“This is what happened to my ancestors,” Professor Black recalled thinking at the time. “I made an emotional decision that when I returned from the Army, that most of the rest of my life would be spent trying to make where I live, and the bigger world, a place where all people could have peace and justice.”
After he returned home, Professor Black graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He went on to study sociology and history at the University of Chicago and received a master’s degree there in 1954.
Professor Black’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Ermetra Black Thomas. His son, Timuel Kerrigan Black, died of AIDS in 1993, and his stepson, Anthony Said Johnson, was fatally shot in a robbery in 2002.
During his final decades, Professor Black was largely engaged in producing two volumes of “Bridges of Memory,” an oral history on the migration of Black people to Chicago, and his memoir, which was itself a kind of oral history, assembled with the help of the Chicago community activist Susan Klonsky. These accounts might not have been verified through archival research, but Professor Black argued that his memories, and those of his fellow Black Chicagoans, had a value of their own.
“This process of personal evaluation may serve to help the present and future generations understand the distinctive qualities of the individual lives as well as the collective life of Black folk in Chicago,” he wrote in his memoir. “They might get this or that fact wrong, but this is how they remembered it.”