EDITOR’S NOTE: Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving! Today, some members of our Shinbone Star family are taking time from their food preparations to give thanks to America’s true leaders, the ones who don’t waste our time tweeting about their own perceived importance. By clicking on any of the names below, readers can open a new window to learn more about each leader. We invite you to use the comments section at the end of this article to add your ideas to our list.
This Thanksgiving, let’s spend a few minutes praising American leaders. Men and women who shaped our country and the world we live in through their vision, their honesty, their hard work, their commitment to leaving the country and the world a stronger, safer place for our children and their children. Given these parameters, there will be no reflections on the current White House occupant.
Many of the names that follow are easily recognizable and their contributions to life as we live it today well known. A few others might not be on anyone’s Top 10 list except mine. Author’s choice, I confess.
Full disclosure: This list is based on my life as a middle class, Anglo American stiff who loves history, loves our country and admires people who have or had more courage than I could ever generate. Also, this list is not intended to be a ranking of any sort. I do give a brief reason why I felt the need to send thanks their way.
These individuals came to mind quickly. Their stories stored in my brain cells for many years. I was blessed to have worked for one of them and still consider that person to be a special kind of leader; someone who seldom sought the spotlight but was a major player on the world stage for decades.
I wish I had more to give than a few words in a blog post. These were special people who will always have a place in my heart and mind for as long as I breathe.
God bless all of these great Americans and great folks on this Thanksgiving Day 2019.
Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist who refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott; its success launched nationwide efforts to end racial segregation of public facilities
Patrick Henry was an orator of great skill. His persuasive and passionate speeches helped kickstart the American Revolution. He was best known for his declaration to the Second Virginia Convention: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” A Founding Father, he served as the first and sixth post-colonial Governor of Virginia.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He was a leading writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.
Barbara Jordan was the first southern African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She is best known for her eloquent speech during House impeachment hearings against Richard Nixon. She was the first African-American and first woman to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention.
Jimmy Carter is the earliest-serving of the five living U.S. presidents. He became involved with Habitat for Humanity in 1984 and has since become its highest profile proponent. Carter and his wife Rosalynn have worked alongside “more than 103,000 volunteers in 14 countries to build, renovate or repair 4,331 homes.
Teddy Roosevelt was a conservationist of the highest order. His legacy can be found in the 230 million acres of public lands he helped establish during his presidency. Much of that land — 150 million acres — was set aside as national forests. A proponent of utilizing the country’s resources, Roosevelt worked to insure the sustainability of those resources.
James Addison Baker III was Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush. In that position he helped oversee U.S. foreign policy during the end of the Cold War (which included the fall of the Berlin Wall) and collapse of the Soviet Union. He serves on the World Justice Project and the Climate Leadership Council.
Rachel Louise Carson was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book “Silent Spring” is credited with advancing the global environmental movement. She is hailed as one of the most important conservationists in history and is recognized as the mother of modern environmentalism.
With their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings, three Americans — all immigrants to this country — put their careers and possibly even their lives on the line in service of the truth. It was a heartening reminder that good people with education, training and courage are doing the everyday work of running the country despite the man at the top. I honor and give thanks for:
This Thanksgiving we acknowledge the passing of a great member of Congress and an even greater man, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. I was fortunate to interact with him both socially and professionally because, as is the grand tradition of Washington D.C., I knew a guy who knows a guy. In my case it was a woman I used to work with at Sojourners who was on his Oversight Committee staff.
We all know, or we all should know how much Cummings gave of himself these last few years even as he battled cancer and we all should be thankful for his life and work.
But this Thanksgiving I’m not giving thanks for him or even for another great lion in the House of Representatives, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. I won’t humblebrag about my many interactions with him, but I could!
From “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the House floor sit-in he staged to protest the lack of legislation to combat gun violence in 2014 this nation owes him a debt that may only be paid when our politics truly reflects the voices of all Americans. He’s done the work, he’s shed the blood and he bears the scars of his efforts on our behalf but I don’t give thanks for him this Thanksgiving.
I’m giving thanks for a woman I’ve never met and of whom most have never heard. I am thankful that LaTosha Brown is in our world and is doing the work that just may save this nation.
From her biography on the website of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics where she is a fellow:
“LaTosha Brown is an award-winning organizer, philanthropic consultant, political strategist and jazz singer with over twenty years of experience working in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors on a wide variety of issues related to political empowerment, social justice, economic development, leadership development, wealth creation and civil rights.
“She is the co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, a power building southern based civic engagement organization that played an instrumental role in the 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate race.* Ms. Brown is principal owner of TruthSpeaks Consulting, Inc., a philanthropy advisory consulting firm in Atlanta, Ga. For more than 25 years, she has served as a consultant and advisor for individual donors, government, public foundations and private donors.”
One of the more overlooked realities in political coverage is the mobility of the black middle class. One of the results of that mobility is a significant reversal of the Great Northern Migration, the post-Reconstruction movement of blacks escaping the racist pogroms of the South to cities of the north in search of work in factories.
Those cities are now in what’s called the Rust Belt, and blacks have been leaving those areas in droves.
Black middle class voters are returning to the South where their families have ancestral property, to where their income has allowed them to buy into the suburbs of cities in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and the Carolinas.
In a pre-2018 midterm elections interview with The New York Times, Brown detailed the strategies employed by Black Voters Matter:
“All year, our group, Black Voters Matter Fund, crisscrosses the South, focusing on progressive pockets in red states to find people who have been ignored.
“We’ve learned how to turn citizens into committed voters. Despite declining black turnout nationwide, including in 2016, the lowest presidential turnout rate for blacks since 2000, we’ve seen enormous success in local and statewide races.
“And although our approach is tailored to black people in the South, our model is one that any party or politician or group looking to increase turnout — or to mobilize the six in 10 eligible voters who stay at home for the midterms — should use.”
The work is effective despite the efforts of the mainstream press to gloss over who truly forms the base of the Democratic Party, as illustrated by an insistence that Democratic candidates mustn’t “move too far left” or must “tack toward the center.”
A nice, “moderate centrist” candidate isn’t gonna be what it takes to get folks who want to vote Democrat, but have to figuratively crawl through broken glass to cast a ballot.
I’m giving thanks for LaTosha Brown and those like her because she says what “we” know, a return to normalcy and civil discourse is a bullshit desire from people who don’t feel the urgency or the danger:
“We can’t over-romanticize the notion of civility in politics because what was civil discourse to some felt like erasure, marginalization and suppression to others. Civility in America has often meant stay in your place and ‘make white folks feel comfortable.’ ”
— LaTosha Brown
* Doug Jones beat Roy Moore on the strength of the black woman vote.