Durbin Honors Civil Rights Legend Timuel Black, Calls For Passage Of Freedom To Vote Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today paid tribute on the Senate floor to Chicago civil rights legend and historian Timuel Black, who passed away last week at the age of 102. In his remarks, Durbin highlighted how Black served his country in World War II, landing in Normandy on D-Day, then went on to join the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, with Dr. King in Chicago, Black pressed for an end to discriminatory housing laws that squeezed many of the city’s Black residents into overpriced, ramshackle apartments in unsafe, segregated neighborhoods with few jobs and failing schools. Black also played a key role in electing Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor, in 1983, and he helped guide a young Barack Obama as he entered politics a decade later.  As a distinguished historian and the Griot of Chicago, he helped preserve the rich history of the Great Migration and Bronzeville.

“Tim Black was a foot soldier for justice. He died last week at the age of 102 in the neighborhood that had been his home nearly all of his life, a place he called ‘Sacred Ground’ – the South Side of Chicago.  His passing is a loss to our city, our state, and our nation. If you are not from Chicago, you may not know his name.  But we all live in an America that is better because Timuel Black helped shape it,” Durbin said. “I invited Tim and [his wife] Zenobia to come and sit in the best seats I had for the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American President from the South Side of Chicago. I was fortunate. I knew Tim Black. I counted him as a friend. I was there sitting next to him at his 100th birthday party. It was a great night, and the man still had it all together and a great sense of humor. Loretta and I send our condolences to his beloved wife of 40 years, Zenobia Johnson-Black, his daughter Ermetra, and countless friends and students. A great man has left us. He will be missed.”

During his speech, Durbin also urged the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act to ensure free and fair elections. The bill sets reasonable minimum standards for voting access in all states – including automatic and same-day voter registration,  two weeks of early voting, “no excuse” mail-in voting, and establishes Election Day as a federal holiday. It also protects nonpartisan election officials from undue pressure and prevents the flow of foreign money into U.S. elections.  Republican Senators have threatened to filibuster the bill.

“So if our Republican colleagues are really worried about election integrity and making sure voters are who they say they are, wouldn't you think that they would at least vote to start the debate on the Freedom to Vote Act? That we would have a conversation in this empty chamber that might even attract a handful of Senators on both sides of the aisle to talk about the right to vote in America in the year 2021 and beyond? That just seems so basic. Well, what the Republicans say is the Freedom to Vote Act is much more than just a debate topic. It is a federal takeover of our elections. That simply is not the case,” Durbin said. “The former President [is] still marketing his lies across America about the outcome of the 2020 election. And we will not even take the time to discuss elections and voting. The Republicans will stop us with a filibuster.”

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here and here for TV stations.