Rev. John L. Tilley: The Fountain of Time

JL-Tilley2Because he had to work to help support his family and could not attend school regularly, John Lee Tilley (1898-1971) did not graduate high school until he was 23.  He went to Shaw University for a B.A., and then—as important as land was to free Blacks—John Tilley’s parents mortgaged their tobacco farm so their son could come to study at the University of Chicago.  While a student he was an active member of the Washington Intercollegiate Club, and one of his two books—A Brief History of the Negro in Chicago, 1779-1933—was used in the important student publication The Intercollegiate Wonder Book.  He earned a masters degree and completed Ph.D. course work, but before he could complete his dissertation, Shaw persuaded him to return.  It awarded him the Doctor of Divinity, and he stayed from 1927 to 1944, becoming its acting president during the Depression and the first dean of its School of Religion.

In 1927, just before leaving Chicago, Tilley sat at the base of Lorado Taft’s monumental “Fountain of Time” sculpture at the entrance to the Midway and penned the poem “When Day Is Done,” which I included in my book Black Writing from Chicago, along with excerpts from the aforementioned Intercollegiate Wonder Book.  Imbued with themes and an articulate melancholy not uncommon in the Black poetry of the time, it represents a midpoint between the optimism of the Intercollegiate crowd, which championed Black accomplishment and the New Negro, and the stark pessimism of poet Fenton Johnson.


After his 17 year stint at Shaw, he went on to serve as president of Florida Normal and Industrial College from 1944 to 1949, and then went to Baltimore as dean of the Maryland Baptist Center and School of Religion, as well as becoming pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church.  In 1957 he became director for the NAACP’s Register and Vote campaign in Baltimore, adding 35,000 voters in one year.  This led Martin Luther King, Jr. to call him to be the first national executive secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in early 1958. By April 1959, however, King had asked for his resignation. The SCLC felt it needed more from him, but Tilley felt—and he reminded King of this—that he could work for the SCLC only part time because his church and his city still also needed him.  In Baltimore he was a dean, and a pastor, and a mainstay of the NAACP.

His poem “When the Day Is Done” is prescient about the costs of all the accomplishments ahead, and one also senses a backward glance at the sacrifices he had already made that put off his high school graduation until his early 20’s.  As shadows fall at day’s end, the poem’s speaker reflects on how these shadows dim the bright day.  He juxtaposes “Bright hope and all that seems to be worthwhile” with “The rose so fresh that soon must fade away,” as do pleasures: “They thrill us through but pass forever on, / And as they pass to us they seem to say, / ‘To thrill and pain and leave is why we were born.’”  At the end of life, he only asks, “May I but have the joy that I have won / For some sad hearts real joys that will abide.”  The poem reflects the weariness of one who felt the responsibility of carrying so many burdens.  His daughter Glennette Tilley Turner lives in the Chicago area and has written books and given many talks on Illinois’ Underground Railroad.

  Go to a list of Black Writers on this site, to the main page for Black Writing from Chicago, and to the Teaching Diversity main page.

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The Long 18th Century

Samuel Johnson by Frances Reynolds, Sir Joshua's sister.

Samuel Johnson by Frances Reynolds, Sir Joshua’s sister.

Readers of this site know its focus on Black, World, and Chicago writing, as well as on issues of inequality and poverty, the wealth gap, imperialism and colonialism, race and racism, and the like.  My courses carry a contemporary or modern focus, mostly.  So it may come as a surprise that I’m preparing a course for the Spring 2020 semester on the so-called “Long 18th Century.”  There the West’s colonial and imperial age—attended by slavery and racism—began in earnest, dominating the globe by the early 1800′s.  My early published writings were on India (in particular the Indian writer Raja Rao), and the mid-1700′s saw the British Raj begin.  Along with questions about the humanity of slaves, especially slaves of color, this age also saw the rise of “The Woman Question,” about the humanity of women.  Modern capitalism also bloomed, as it were.  The Industrial Revolution began, leading to the West’s peculiar kind of richness and materialism, which created, in large part, the inequalities and environmental degradation plaguing the planet today.

TheClubIn literature, Enlightenment writing, a feature of its earlier stages, contended with the Romantic movement towards its end: reason vs. emotion, to put it too simply.  The novel and other modern forms began, and women wrote some of the classics of the age: Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and perhaps the most popular and admired writer was Ann Radcliffe. Politically, monarchies and courtly society were giving way to modern democratic movements: the American and French revolutions being the spectacular examples—but it was happening all over the globe, East as well as West.  Science and technology made enormous strides:  Isaac Newton’s formulations, James Watt’s steam engines.  And all of this impacted religious life and thought in world-changing ways.  The “Long” part of the “Long 18th Century” comes from historians who extend the 1700′s backwards and forwards to better encompass closely related world events, though the dates are still a moving target, some starting in 1688 with the English “Glorious Revolution” and ending in 1815 with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.  I start a little earlier, with Charles Stuart’s return to England in 1660 and go to 1821, just before Napoleon’s death.  Some ages are called “axial,” where the world pivots, turns on an axis and almost begins again.  It’s usually applied to the period of the 8th to 3rd centuries BCE, but the Long 18th Century rivals that stretch in pivot points.

SJ-DylanOn a personal level, the Long 18th Century contained one of my favorite writers, Samuel Johnson, my favorite painting of whom begins this post. His sayings have a power that reach out to us undiminished today, as in the meme and song lyrics pictured here.  And in preparing this course, I’ve just finished an excellent book by Leo Damrosch, my favorite professor during my PhD studies at the University of Virginia.  I marveled every class session at the way he instigated lively discussion, then almost always said, “Let me talk for a while,” and proceeded to gather our disparate threads of thought into a focused, deep dive into whatever we were talking about.  I wondered if I could ever be that good, and a few times I have been—I hope.  His book The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age has been my touchstone as I’ve prepared.

The Club met at The Turk’s Head Tavern in London.  England’s greatest portrait painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, partly to cheer his friend Samuel Johnson, suggested in 1763—long before he was a Sir—a gathering of select friends of theirs for eating, drinking, and lively talk.  It still meets today.  A list of its early members presents an astonishing cast.  It revolved around Johnson, one of the world’s greatest essayists and lexicographers, and his biographer James Boswell, whose Life of Johnson sets standards yet today.  Besides the soon to be great Joshua Reynolds, it also included Adam Smith—whose The Wealth of Nations established modern economic thought; Edward Gibbon—whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has defined much of what is great in historical research and writing; David Garrick—whose acting and directing definitely set the modern course for those endeavors; and Edmund Burke and Richard Sheridan, two of the greatest political orators of all time.  In 1830 no less than Frederick Douglass, then just 12 years old, was reading “one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches,” this one in favor of Catholic emancipation in Ireland.  “What I got from Sheridan,” Douglass later recalled, “was  a bold denunciation of slavery and a powerful vindication of human rights.”  Lamentably, but in keeping with the age, no women were allowed, but many more male members made history.  This short list gives a sense of this axial age, an age which laid the foundations of much of the literature and issues I have pursued over my long career.

  Go to my TEACHING page to see the syllabus for this course, available soon.


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The Neighbor Project Highlighted as Rick Guzman Receives Award from NIU Law

Union League Club of Chicago

Union League Club of Chicago

The VIDEO below shows Rick Guzman’s speech upon receiving the 2019 Young Alumnus of the Year Award from the Northern Illinois University College of Law, presented at the Union League Club in Chicago.  The citation reads:

“Rick is the Executive Director of The Neighbor Project, a grass-roots housing and community development organization formed through the merger of Joseph Corporation and Emmanuel House, two long-time housing and home-ownership non-profits based in Aurora, Illinois.  Prior to that Rick served as the City of Aurora’s Manager of the Community Development Division and as the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff working on housing, economic development and neighborhood planning.  Rick and his wife, Desiree, co-founded ‘Emmanuel House’ in Aurora in 2002 to help lower-income families break the cycle of working-class poverty through a unique and dignified pathway to home ownership.  In 2016, Emmanuel House’s ‘Networked Savings Program’ was recognized as one of the ‘100 most innovative nonprofit or social enterprise programs in the world,’ as a Classy Award finalist [presented by the social change platform Classy, in association with Stanford University, and the United Nations].  The ‘Networked Savings Program’—now a core program of The Neighbor Project—continues to partner closely with churches, local government, civic organizations and other non-profits in the greater Aurora area.  Previously, Rick worked at the State of Illinois as Policy Advisor to the Governor on Criminal Justice issues.  In 2004, he was appointed by the Governor to direct Illinois’ prisoner reentry reform efforts.  In April 2019, Rick was elected to a six-year term to serve as a Trustee of Waubonsee Community College.  He continues to serve on numerous Boards and Commissions working on public policy issues in state and local government and the non-profit world.”

Rick-Award2In his acceptance speech he continued to highlight what has become one of his major themes:  taking the focus off of what you or your organization can accomplish, and instead focusing on what your neighbors can accomplish.  He also mentions me taking him at a very young age to serve the homeless, an experience reporter Nancy Kirby wrote about in a wonderful article, “Seeds of Change.”  In the article Rick says, “When Hesed House [Aurora's homeless shelter] was first founded, my Dad took us to volunteer there, so it’s always been kind of cool to recognize my interest and awareness of homelessness from a very young age”—an awareness perhaps foundational to his leading organizations devoted to creating home owners.

He also mentions the death of his youngest brother, Bryan Emmanuel Guzman, which has been the catalyst for many things the NIU School of Law honored him for this September 24, 2019.  After watching the VIDEO below, follow the links embedded above to find out more about The Neighbor Project, the many things leading to it, and how you can become involved in lifting up your neighbor and changing worlds as you do.

  Visit the websites of Emmanuel House and The Neighbor Project.  At the latter you can also watch a VIDEO introducing the new organization, or go directly to it Here.  I was privileged to narrate it.

  Read Rick’s important Law Review article on educational inequality.  He titled it, provocatively, “An Argument for a Return to Plessy vs. Ferguson“  It led, in part, to his receiving the Thurgood Marshall Award upon his graduation from NIU Law.

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