A special assembly held at Dyett High School, in honor of African American History Month, paid homage to African American historian and civil rights activist Timuel Black Feb. 22.

“I am overwhelmed,” said the 99-year-old, as he received his honorary award.

The school’s principal presented Black with their first, soon to be annual, Honorary Eagle Award.

“This is the first of many, but I think it was a great first,” said principal Beulah McLoyd.

Black was chosen because of his focused storytelling on Bronzeville. He’s the author of Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Great Migration.

Timuel Black presents principal Beulah McLoyd with a copy of his book for the school library.

The book chronicles Chicago’s African American history from the 1920s to present day and is based on interviews Black conducted. He was the youngest son of sharecroppers who moved their family from Birmingham, Alabama, to Chicago in 1919, part of the first Great Migration.

He said he grew up in Chicago, in what’s historically known as the Black Belt. It was an area of the city between 12th and 79th streets and Wentworth and Cottage Grove avenues that African Americans were limited to living and shopping in.

After being drafted into the Army during World War II, Black said he came home ready to advocate for change for African Americans.

During the assembly, a video of Black talking about his childhood was shown. Check it out here.

In preparation of the event, McLoyd said that teachers had students do research on Black.

“Dr. Black’s work around storytelling and just chronicling the history of this community, I think was just fitting, and very well aligned with the overall mission and vision of the school,” she said. “One of the things that’s extremely important to me as a principal is that children who live in this community, and go to Dyett, understand the rich history and legacy of Bronzeville.”

Black called the neighborhood surrounding the school “sacred ground.”

“In this area we were nurtured, encouraged and prepared to meet the bigger world,” he said.

He shared with students how his generation lived through the Great Depression, yet they had optimistic spirits, he said.

“We didn’t have money, but we believed that one day we would overcome so we stayed optimistic,” Black said.

A challenge was left for the students before the assembly ended.

“I want to encourage them to talk to their older relatives,” he said.

Black explained later why.

“I want them to get equipped to meet the challenges academically, socially and culturally, but I don’t want them to ever forget their heritage,” he said.