Henry English dies at 73, ran Black United Fund

Chicago Sun-Times - - CITY BEAT - BY ANDY GRIMM Staff Reporter Email: agrimm@sun­times.com Twit­ter: @agrimm34

Even in his 70s, Henry English was per­pet­u­ally on his way to one event or an­other. A protest. An or­ga­niz­ing meet­ing. A lob­by­ing trip to Spring­field to speak on be­half of the needy.

Mr. English was a dervish­like pres­ence in Chicago’s strug­gling neigh­bor­hoods for more than 40 years, a Black Pan­ther leader who in the 1960s re­cruited a young Bobby Rush, an or­ga­nizer for Mayor Harold Wash­ing­ton and the founder of the char­i­ta­ble Black United Fund of Illinois.

On Satur­day morn­ing, Mr. English was driv­ing on Lake Shore Drive to a get-out-thevote event for Hil­lary Clin­ton when his van was rear-ended near 63rd Street, his long­time friend Con­rad Wor­rill said. Mr. English ap­par­ently suf­fered a heart at­tack and died at North­west­ern Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal. He was 73.

The other driver was un­hurt, though his car was to­taled.

“He was al­ways run­ning,” said Mr. English’s son, Nkrumah English. “When he was pass­ing away, he was run­ning some­where. He had fam­ily life, work or a meet­ing ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment — the stamina he had to run all across the city, the state.”

Mr. English grew up on the city’s Near West Side, blocks from Far­ragut Ca­reer Academy. He was the se­cond of four chil­dren raised by par­ents who came to Chicago from Mis­sis­sippi.

Af­ter a post-high school stint in the Marine Corps, he re­turned to Chicago and be­came an ac­tivist while study- ing and serv­ing in stu­dent govern­ment at what was then called Crane Ju­nior Col­lege, where he ral­lied class­mates to the cause of chang­ing the school’s name to Mal­colm X Col­lege, ac­cord­ing to Wor­rill, who is di­rec­tor of the Ja­cob Car­ruthers Cen­ter for In­ner City Stud­ies at North­east­ern Illinois Univer­sity.

Mr. English even­tu­ally be­came the trea­surer of the Black Pan­ther Party and, in a tur­bu­lent era, emerged as a calm­ing pres­ence with a “ge­nius” for com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing, Wor­rill said.

“He loved Mal­colm, but he wasn’t stuck like that,” Wor­rill said. “He had a great ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Mr. English moved his fam­ily to New York, where he stud­ied at Cor­nell Univer­sity and earned a mas­ter’s de­gree, then re­turned to Chicago and took a good-pay­ing job as a health-care ad­min­is­tra­tor. But he spent evenings or­ga­niz­ing neigh­bors, his son said.

Mr. English had key, be­hind-the-scenes roles in ef­forts that in­cluded voter­reg­is­tra­tion ini­tia­tives that helped pro­pel Wash­ing­ton’s elec­tion as mayor in 1983. He also worked to pre­serve the build­ings at the South Shore Coun­try Club and trans­form them into the South Shore Cul­tural Cen­ter.

His ca­reer as a health ex­ec­u­tive turned out to be short-lived. In 1983, Mr. English founded the Black United Fund in Chicago, which raises char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions to pro­vide grants and ex­per­tise to small not-for-profit groups and pro­grams for job-train­ing, his son said.

Though Mr. English counted fig­ures such as Fred Hamp­ton and Stokely Carmichael as friends and rubbed el­bows with jazz greats Count Basie and Miles Davis while do­ing or­ga­niz­ing, he was proud­est of his work help­ing work­ing-class fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to his son.

“To him, the first step was eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and get­ting folks back to work,” his son said. “He could have made money in the cor­po­rate world. He came back to be in the fight.”

Mr. English is also sur­vived by his wife, Denise; an­other son, Jum­mane; and daugh­ters Kenya and Kamil­lah. Fu­neral ar­range­ments were pend­ing.

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Henry English (right) marches with the Rev. Michael Pfleger at a demon­stra­tion.

Henry English

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