The HistoryMakers Salutes You
“On the day of HistoryMaker Dr. Manford Byrd’s funeral, we here at The HistoryMakers mourn his loss. He was one of our staunchest advocates and supporters. It was Dr. Byrd that forged a strong working relationship between The HistoryMakers and the Boule’ Foundation, and it was he who helped guide many of our interview efforts. He was a true servant leader and during his life, he contributed so much to the African American community,” says Julieanna Richardson, President and Founder of The HistoryMakers. He passed away on January 17, 2021.
Byrd was born in Brewton, Alabama. His life changed when he was given a four-year scholarship to Central College in Pella, Iowa, where Iowan farm country met Alabama native, and where he majored in mathematics. When his hopes of being an engineer faded due to lack of opportunities following World War II, he chose a career in education, and what a career it became. After teaching in Quincy, Illinois, Byrd joined the Chicago Public School system when it was known for its segregated Willis Wagons – the portable units that housed the city’s African American youth and teachers. By 1968, Byrd had been promoted to Deputy Superintendent and Chief Operating Officer of Chicago Public Schools, making him at the age of 39, one of the highest ranking African American public sector leaders in the nation. He would go on to serve as Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools during the administration of Chicago’s first African American mayor, Mayor Harold Washington.
Dr. Byrd reflected on this career in his 2002 interview: “It was a wonderful experience… the system was great to me… [I am] a great believer in the public school system and what its possibilities are… Nobody has a quick thing that gonna change this overnight. We’re gonna have to make perceptible moves of advancement in success, and if we do that, we’ll make more and more of our people successful. Already we’ve got them doing everything, going into all kinds of professions, and we can do more of that. And I hope that I’ve been a part of starting that and giving aspirations and hope.”
When asked what he thinks his legacy will be, he simply stated: “I would hope that it was one of faithfulness and one of staying with it, one of facing frightening odds… I walked into unchartered waters and worked and built bridges.” Our hearts to go out to his wife and life partner of 62 years, Cheribelle Byrd. They met as young teachers. Our hearts also go out to their three sons, Carl, Bradley, and Donald, who did indeed become engineers. Dr. Byrd, during his life, certainly built many a bridge, and we are all the better for it.