On Feb. 1, 2000, Leland Ware published “Thurgood Marshall: Freedom’s Defender.” He included a note at the beginning of the book that “in this biography, the term (insert the N-word here) appears in some quotations. When this term is used, it merely recites the words of the speaker. It is, however, an insulting and harmful word that does not describe or define any person or group.”
I wonder what Thurgood Marshall would think of the recent controversy over him and the names people called him. People called Justice Marshall terrible things. As Professor Ware demonstrated in his book, people, particularly law students, should know the terrible insults directed at Marshall.
They should know because, though I disagreed with many of his opinions, he was a man who stared evil in the eye and did not blink. It is good that people are offended by how Marshall was treated, but the offense should not come from historic recountings, but from the things actually happening when they happened.
Our nation has been through many turbulent times and so often we have seen men and women rise up to face the challenges. Marshall was one of them. In the late 1970s, the three lions of freedom stood and prepared to roar. Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in October 1978. In May of 1979, Margaret Thatcher became prime minster of Great Britain. And Ronald Reagan began his race for the presidency that he would win in November 1980.
These three successfully plotted the downfall of the Evil Empire that was Soviet communism. They were fearless. They defied so many critics. They ensured freedom for millions of people. And they did so on the recognition of the importance of the fundamental freedoms people like Thurgood Marshall had to fight for to obtain.
I often wonder if this pattern of good men and women rising at the right time will keep happening. I hear stories of law students and professors in states of near apoplexy by others reminding them of historic facts and I wonder if those training to defend our first freedoms are behaving in such a fragile manner, what about the rest of society.
Thankfully, there seems to remain a common goodness in the American public. The grace often lacking in academia -- because of Sayre’s law, i.e. “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low,” mirroring the grace often lacking in online political debate -- is found abundantly in the heartland among the American people who are quick to forgive and patient with others.
While I think many leading voices in the United States in both political parties and many academic intellectuals have decided our nation has run its course, that our best days are behind us and they should manage our decline -- I am thankful most Americans have kept their can-do attitude and optimistic spirit.
We remain a wonderfully free country where people with initiative and a good idea can get ahead of rent seekers, complainers and the perpetually offended. I am thankful we still have a society with a robust public square in which we can debate and discuss ideas and issues.
I am thankful God has time and time again blessed this nation with good people who became great because they met the moment, confronted the evil, and won. But I do worry that more and more, in academics and business and politics, the grace of the heartland is being replaced by the mercilessness of the easily and perpetually offended.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.