Weekend open thread: Passages

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which ended Saturday evening, delayed this weekend's open thread. One of the most meaningful parts of the Yom Kippur tradition is the yizkor memorial service. In that spirit, I have been thinking about three hugely influential Americans who died during the past week.

Derrick Bell was a leading voice of critical race theory in legal scholarship. I first remember hearing about Bell in 1990, when he walked away from a tenured position at Harvard Law School. He put himself on unpaid leave to protest the school's lack of tenured minority women professors. In the academic world, lots of people argue passionately at seminars or conferences, or through strongly-worded journal articles. It is rare for someone to put a job on the line over a matter of principle.

I wasn't aware until reading Bell's New York Times obituary that he had resigned from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division as a young man, after facing pressure to resign from the NAACP. I also didn't realize he had left as dean of the law school at the University of Oregon over that school's failure to hire an Asian-American woman. Charles Ogletree, Jr. published a good tribute to Bell, his "mentor, teacher and dear friend."

The same day Bell died, the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth passed away. Shuttlesworth didn't just risk his career, he put his life on the line as one of the key civil rights leaders in Alabama during the 1950s and 1960s. Along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and two others, Shuttlesworth was a founding minister in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was arrested many times and violently attacked:

In one instance, on Christmas night 1956, he survived an attack in which six sticks of dynamite were detonated outside his parsonage bedroom as he lay in bed. "The wall and the floor were blown out," Ms. McWhorter wrote, "and the mattress heaved into the air, supporting Shuttlesworth like a magic carpet."

When he tried to enroll his children in an all-white school in 1957, Klansmen attacked him with bicycle chains and brass knuckles. When a doctor treating his head wounds marveled that he had not suffered a concussion, Mr. Shuttlesworth famously replied, "Doctor, the Lord knew I lived in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head."

Shuttlesworth helped organize two weeks of protests in Birmingham in 1963 and the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965.

"Without Fred Shuttlesworth laying the groundwork, those demonstrations in Birmingham would not have been as successful," said Andrew M. Manis, author of "A Fire You Can't Put Out," a biography of Mr. Shuttlesworth. "Birmingham led to Selma, and those two became the basis of the civil rights struggle."

Mr. Shuttlesworth, he added, had "no equal in terms of courage and putting his life in the line of fire" to battle segregation.

Finally, the internet is full of tributes this week to Steve Jobs, clearly one of the most influential "technology pioneers" of the past century. I got a laugh out of this passage in the Los Angeles Times obituary:

A 1993 Wall Street Journal article described "the decline of Mr. Jobs," saying that his vision for NeXT resembled "a pipe dream" and portraying him as a once-great but increasingly irrelevant figure who might survive "as a niche player."

Pixar animation, the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad--not bad for a "niche player." I don't have a smart phone or a tablet computer, but every personal computer I've ever owned has been an Apple product, starting with the Mac Classic I bought as a college sophomore.

This is an open thread. What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

Login or Join to comment and post.