Black Hall of Fame on track for June opening at Governors State University |

UNIVERSITY PARK — For now, these are photos mounted on sheets of plywood in a corner of the main entrance to Governors State University in University Park.

In a few months, the space is slated to open as the Illinois Black Hall of Fame, and Ceola Barnes considers it an inspiration to students at the university.

“I see it as a tool to teach and educate people about our history that they may not know,” Hall of Fame founder Barnes said at a dedication ceremony on Friday.

The photos include Timuel Black, a civil rights activist, teacher and historian who was the hall’s first inductee. Black died on October 13 at the age of 102.

Alongside Black are photos of pioneering aviator Bessie Coleman; Reverend Jesse Jackson; Spencer Leak Sr., president of Leak & Sons Funeral Home; and Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

They were the 2021 inductees, with last year’s ceremony taking place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s inductees are expected to be announced in about a week.

The space is set to be transformed into a more formal exhibit in time for GSU’s Juneteenth event this summer.

The first Hall inductees “led lives that changed the status quo,” GSU President Cheryl Green said Friday. “They have blazed new trails and inspired generations to dream.”

Zenobia Johnson-Black, who was married to Timuel Black for 40 years, said her husband was delighted to be the first Hall inductee.

Her husband taught at the high school and college levels on subjects including civics, African-American history and anthropology, she said.

Black’s longtime friend Monica Faith Stewart said she first heard Black after graduating from Vassar College.

“He encouraged us to get involved in politics,” she said.

Black worked on behalf of Washington during his mayoral campaign, a position to which he was elected in 1983 and re-elected four years later. Black was also a mentor to Barack Obama.

Stewart served in the Illinois House from 1980 to 1983, representing Chicago’s South Side 29th District, and also worked as a field coordinator during Washington’s initial campaign.

Black, she said, “was able to have her life make a difference in the lives of others.”

Johnson-Black said her husband had a favorite piece of advice.

“He always said, ‘Be ready, so when the door opens you can come in, but when you come through, keep the door open for someone else,'” she said.

Coleman was the first African-American woman and the first woman of Native American descent to earn a pilot’s license, although she had to travel to France to do so. Born in Texas, Coleman and other family members moved to the Chicago area.

She died on April 30, 1926, when she fell from an airplane piloted by her mechanic.

Her great-niece, Gigi Coleman, who was at Friday’s event, said her great-aunt ‘wanted to make a difference in aviation in the 1920s’ and had hoped, before her death, to open a school piloting.

“She was a trailblazer ahead of her time,” Coleman said. “She had the tenacity to overcome all kinds of obstacles.”

Barnes, who received her master’s degree in 1975 from Governors State, said the Black Hall of Fame is an outgrowth of the African-American Ladies’ Legacy Foundation, which was founded in 2011 and promotes the achievements of African-American women. role models and works to mentor young black girls.

Barnes worked for 34 years in the Chicago public school system, including as a teacher, vice-principal, and principal before retiring in 2004. She is president of the foundation and sister of U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis, D-Chicago, honorary chairman of the hall. .

With the foundation, “our primary focus is on women, but with the Illinois Black Hall of Fame, our mission is to honor the past, celebrate the present, and inspire the future,” Barnes said.

“We want to use this as a way to inspire young people and motivate them,” she said.

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