Good old Dr. Ford.
She knew she was stepping in front of a train. But she went ahead and did it anyway.
Well, here’s to courage.
As my friends know, I’m a podcast junkie. I listen to a jillion of them, some on stunningly boring topics (e.g. fossil-collecting on the shores of Chesapeake Bay). Two recent ones got me thinking on the topic of courage.
One was an episode of The Intercept featuring an audio clip of Muhammad Ali.
In 1966, Ali announced his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. His remarks that day are well-known, but as I listened again, I was struck by his calm courage and plain-spoken wisdom. Listen to the young Ali explain his objections. (His comments are also transcribed below.)
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America,” Ali said. “And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How I’m gonna go shoot them … poor little black people, little babies and children, women. How I gotta shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
Ali was stripped of his championship and banned from boxing for three years. He was subjected to widespread vitriol, hatred, and condemnation.
He took it like a champ. He said: “To those of the press and those of the people who think that I lost so much by [refusing to serve in Vietnam], I would like to say that I did not lose a thing. Up until this very moment, I haven’t lost one thing. I have gained a lot. Number one, I have gained a peace of mind. I have gained a peace of heart.”
Another example of bravery is evident in the podcast In the Dark, a remarkable series about the disturbing case of Curtis Flowers. He has been tried six separate times for a quadruple murder in Mississippi which, it seems increasingly clear, he had nothing to do with.
I’ll leave the details of the case for a future blog post. Suffice it to say that in small-town Winona, Miss., those who have spoken up about the case have suffered repercussions.
Pastor Nelson Forrest discussed these repercussions at the recent funeral of Flowers’ mother, Lola. He challenged his audience to look past their personal fears and find a center of strength:
“I’m sick and tired of scared folks,” Pastor Forrest said. “Jesus didn’t die on no cross for you to be scared! He wasn’t scared. What are you scared of? You stand for what’s right.”
Of course, the grandaddy of all these righteous expressions of steadfastness is Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech in Memphis, Tenn., the night before he was assassinated. I was reminded of it while listening to the “We Came Through” episode of the StoryCorps podcast (Jan. 17, 2017).
Dr. King had traveled to Memphis in solidarity with striking trash-haulers, whose miserable working conditions are well described in the StoryCorps podcast. That night Dr. King gave to the sanitation workers not only his presence, fame, and energy. He also gave to them one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history.
“So I’m happy tonight,” King said. “I’m not worried about anything! I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory. Of the coming of the Lord!”
Yes, the next day King was killed.
Yes, Curtis Flowers still sits on death row for murders he didn’t commit.
Yes, the Kavanaugh confirmation will be jammed down our throats.
Speaking an uncomfortable or unpopular truth doesn’t lead to quick victory. More often it leads to public condemnation and scorn, or even imprisonment.
Well, so what? These startling moments of truth-telling also show human beings at their best. These moments inspire the rest of us. I’m reminded of lyrics from “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine.
I heard from someone you’re still pretty/And then/They went on to say/That the pearly gates/Has some eloquent graffiti/Like ‘We’ll Meet Again’/And ‘Fuck the Man’
Hahaha. Exactly right.
You might not win this time, Dr. Ford. But in the long run, you did. Big time.