One of my favorite living heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died this week. It happened while I was working on a sermon for October 11th called After Columbus, about statues (that will be my next blog). Her death led me to reflect on what makes someone a hero. In brief, showing courage and dedication in a noble cause. That heroism may be in spite of various flaws, but the courage, dedication, and noble cause are all required. That third criterion is what distinguishes Washington and Jefferson from Robert E. Lee in the great battle over statues.
I started by enumerating noble causes, and I came up with four that date back to at least the early nineteenth century and are still with us today: Abolition and civil rights, suffrage and feminism, humanitarian support, and environmental protection. You may have others. Certainly there are heroes of a more intellectual bent who made pioneering contributions to science, medicine, engineering, astronomy, mathematics, biology. Courage was not always evident, but it certainly was for Galileo and Darwin. However, for me, the four noble causes are enough.
Here are my heroes. If you haven’t heard of some of them, Google them.
For abolition and civil rights: Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King jr., the Grimke sisters, Robert Smalls, Theodore Parker, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman.
For suffrage and feminism: Abigail Adams, the Grimke sisters and Frederick Douglass again, Alice Paul, Lucretia Mott, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Sanger, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
For humanitarian work: Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Mahatma Gandhi, Dag Hammerskjold, Bryan Stevenson, Dorothea Dix.
For environmental protection: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Rachel Carson, All Gore, and countless Native American tribes.
What are your causes and who are your heroes? What are you doing to follow in their footsteps, which is a better way to honor them than by erecting a statue or naming a building?