Timuel D. Black Essay Contest

The Timuel D. Black Essay Contest was established in 2022 to help local Chicago high school students connect with and reflect upon the life and legacy of the longtime educator, activist and historian Timuel Black. The idea for the contest was born out of conversation at a board meeting of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium about how the BMRC might honor Tim Black after his passing on October 13, 2021. BMRC board member Tony Dunbar, a professor at Dominican University in the School of Information Studies, raised the idea of an essay contest for high school students. From there, the Timuel Black Essay Committee was formed with representatives from the BMRC, the Civic Knowledge Project at the University of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools Social Sciences Department and Zenobia Johnson Black, widow of Timuel Black.

Timuel D. Black

About Timuel D. Black, Jr.

Image credit: Timuel Black Jr. teaching at Loop College (now Harold Washington College), early 1970s. Courtesy of Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Chicago Public Library.

Timuel Black was an educator, historian, author, civil rights activist and labor leader who championed the many important roles that Black Chicagoans have played in shaping the city. Black was born in Birmingham, Alabama on December 7, 1918 to parents who were sharecroppers. By 1919, Black's family had migrated to Chicago's South Side and settled in Bronzeville as part of the first wave of the Great Migration. Black attended Burke Elementary and graduated from DuSable High School. He was drafted in the United States Army during World War II and became a decorated veteran.

After returning from the war and working several jobs, Timuel Black earned a Bachelors degree from Roosevelt University in 1952 and a Master's degree from the University of Chicago in 1954 where he studied history and sociology. Black then went on to teach at local high schools, including his alma mater DuSable High School, and at Loop College (later Harold Washington College - City Colleges of Chicago). In addition to teaching, Black also worked as a social worker and developed a deep interest in the southern civil rights movement in the 1950s as well as a lifelong commitment to addressing racial injustice in Chicago. His activism traversed education, politics, labor, and civil rights.

Black was an organizer in several labor and civil rights initiatives including the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), the 1963 March on Washington Movement, and the Chicago Freedom Movement. Black ran for public office and supported the movement for independent Black politics in the city, most notably supporting Harold Washington's historic run for mayor of the city of Chicago in 1983. Black was a mentor to many political figures who called Chicago home, including Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama.

Timuel Black was a maker, teacher, and writer of history. He authored three books about Chicago's dynamic African American community - Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration, Bridges of Memory: Chicago's Second Generation of Black Migration, and Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black.


2022-2023 Essay Deadlines

December 7, 2022 - Contest launches

March 13, 2023 - Deadline for submissions

March to April - All submissions are reviewed

April 10, 2023 - Notifications to all participants


2022-2023 Essay Prompts

Students must select one of the essay prompts below. Download a copy of all three essay prompts here. Please consult the Timuel Black Essay Contest Resources page for further instructions and resources to help write your essay.

TBEC1
TBEC2
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Rules and Eligibility

  • The Timuel D. Black Essay Contest is open to students, grades 9-12, currently enrolled and attending a high school in Chicago.
  • Essays must be submitted by the deadline on Monday, March 13, 2023 by 11:59pm. Essays submitted after this deadline will not be considered for the contest.
  • Students should consult the Timuel D. Black Essay Contest Resources page for assistance in writing their essays.
  • Students may submit more than one essay for the contest, but are only eligible to win one prize.
  • Essay must be your own, original composition.

Prize Structure

All student submissions to the Timuel Black Essay Contest will be reviewed. The top student submissions will receive the following prizes:

1st Place

  • $1,250 cash prize
  • A certificate of recognition
  • A copy of Sacred Ground by Timuel Black
  • Essay published on the BMRC's Timuel Black Essay Contest webpage

2nd Place

  • $1,000 cash prize
  • A certificate of recognition
  • A copy of Sacred Ground by Timuel Black
  • Essay published on the BMRC's Timuel Black Essay Contest webpage

3rd Place

  • $750 cash prize
  • A certificate of recognition
  • A copy of Sacred Ground by Timuel Black
  • Essay published on the BMRC's Timuel Black Essay Contest webpage

Ready to submit your essay?

Click here to go to the submission portal.