Nathaniel (Nate) Blackman, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 20, 1930 to the union of Nathaniel Blackman, Sr. and Mamie Blackman. He was raised in Ida B. Wells Housing Project with his younger brothers, James and Harold. Nate credited his mother for having the foresight to understand that education and exposure could provide future opportunities for her sons.
From an early age, Nate demonstrated leadership, discipline, a humble spirit, charm and a calm demeanor. Educated in the Catholic faith, Nate attended St. Anselm’s Elementary School under the direction of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and St. Elizabeth High School where he excelled in academics and track and field. Nate also served in the Illinois National Guard (1946-1953) and Army (1954-1956). In the Fall of 1947, Nate integrated DePaul University’s track and field team, a few months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Steadfast in his faith, his innate leadership skills, intelligence and charm, Nate excelled as a top performer in the 200 and 400 relays and finished with one of the best racing resumes in DePaul’s history.
Always humble, he talked about the importance of being grounded, believing in himself and always being dignified while competing and leading athletes who looked nothing like himself. As a senior, he was voted captain of the team and named DePaul’s top Athlete of the Year. This was the first time that an athlete other than a basketball player won the award. Nate was a proud DePaul “triple Demon” earning a Bachelor of Arts in Education, Masters in Administration and Supervision and Specialist Degree in Administration and Supervision. Nate was always willing to speak to DePaul’s student athletes about his experiences. He was elected to DePaul’s Hall of Fame in 1978 and is memorialized with a photographic mural at DePaul
University’s Ray Meyer Fitness & Recreation Center.
He was an innovative and progressive reformer concerned about urban youth and began his career as a teacher at Doolittle Elementary School. After teaching a number of years, he became an Assistant Principal and then Assistant to the Area and District Superintendents. He received his first principal assignment at Walter Reed Elementary School. In 1970, he accepted a job as the first principal of Chicago’s Metropolitan Studies High School (Metro) the nation’s first “School Without Walls.” The concept of the school was based on a proposal from the Urban Research Corporation and the Parkway Experimental School in Philadelphia.
When he started he was told: “Be creative, be innovative – but don’t fail.” Metro was a radical experiment in alternative education, and Nate was the right leader. The City of Chicago was the metaphorical classroom. The businesses, cultural institutions and neighborhoods of the City of Chicago opened their doors and became Metro. Despite controversy with the Chicago Board of Education, Nate clung to his commitment to educate all students, and Metro excelled.
In a 1973 report, Nate was singled out for praise from the accrediting committee of the North Central Association of Colleges. “No matter what the tenor of his relationship with the above-school administration (Chicago Board of Education) may be, within the school, the principal is making an invaluable and irreplaceable contribution.” Due to Nate’s insightful leadership, many came to observe Nate and the operations of Metro. England’s BBC ran a feature story on the revolutionary school, the late columnist Mike Royko wrote about the school’s unusual approach to education and the late Walter Cronkite featured the story on his news broadcast.
Chicago, IL 60649
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