Revered local historian to look back on African American experience during Great Depression, New Deal


Chicago Historian Timuel Black to speak, with piano performance by jazz impresario and Chicago native Reginald Robinson


Chicago, IL – Non-profit cultural presenter portoluz continues its June programming this Saturday with a talk by revered Historian Timuel Black on the African American experience during the New Deal and the Great Depression, in conjunction with a solo piano performance by jazz impresario Reginald Robinson. The event will be held June 18th at 2 p.m., at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place in Chicago, Admission is $5; no-one will be turned away. 

This Saturday’s DuSable event is one of dozens of public events this summer being produced under portoluz‘ moniker of WPA 2.0: A Brand New Deal, a groundbreaking year-long series featuring over fifty arts and humanities programs throughout the city with some of the nation’s leading scholars, musicians, civic leaders, visual artists, policy makers and cultural workers. The program is structured to look back on what the federal Works Progress Administration, or WPA, brought to millions of unemployed Americans at the peak of the Great Depression — and how we can reenergize the spirit of the WPA to organize and thrive today, in the worst economic crisis of the last 80 years.

Timuel D. Black is one of the African American community’s most deeply respected and best-loved griots, a keeper and reteller of the history of decades of struggle for rights and dignity. He’s spent his lifetime gathering the stories of Chicago’s African American community, documenting the great social movements of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, and working for peace and justice. Born in Alabama in 1918, Black came to Chicago’s South Side with his family as part of Chicago’s first wave of the Great Migration – the movement of tens of thousands of African-Americans to escape the predations of the Jim Crow south. After serving in World War II, Black attended Roosevelt University and the University of Chicago. As a teacher, social scientist and historian, Black played a leading role in the civil rights movement in Chicago and nationally, working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King and a host of other leading African American civil rights leaders of that era. He has authored dozens of articles and monographs, including Bridges of Memory, an oral history collection documenting the lives of African-Americans who came to Chicago in the first and second waves of the Great Migration. He is currently at work on his own memoir.

Noted pianist and composer Reginald R. Robinson was born and raised in Chicago, where his many creative endeavors include serving as an educator on ragtime music across the United States. When he was in 7th grade, jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis and other musicians visited his school through a city-funded arts program. Davis covered musical styles from Beethoven to Miles Davis in that visit – and Reginald was particularly riveted when the musicians talked about ragtime and performed Scott Joplin’s seminal piano piece, “The Entertainer,” a melody Reginald had heard from the ice cream trucks that plied his neighborhood every summer but that he’d never heard played as a serious piece of music on piano before. That Christmas, Reginald’s mother bought him a small electronic keyboard and he began to teach himself how to play, setting off a lifetime of interest in one of the nation’s great musical traditions – and a musical movement shaped by key African American composers, including Joplin. In 2004, Reginald received a “genius” fellowship grant from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his innovative work in ragtime music.

Special guest Sharon F. Warner, who will read work based on Tim Black’s historical gatherings, is a writer whose work has been published in three countries and extensively online. She has been part of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance since 1997, and her work has appeared in the Journal of Ordinary Thought for more than a decade. The piece from which she’ll read, “Gardeners of Dreams,” was inspired by remarks made by Timuel Black at an Edible Activism workshop at the Artistic Garden in Hyde Park. 

portoluz acknowledges the generous support of the Joyce Foundation, Dr. Carol Adams and the Du Sable Museum of African American History to bring this program to the public, with additional acknowledgment and thanks to Susan Klonsky, Sue Eleuterio, Rachael Hudak and Tracey Williams for their curatorial and production assistance.