Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy birthdays

Two hundred years ago today, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Charles Robert Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born. They never met, but they shared more than their birthdays. Both were devoted family men who were deeply traumatized by the loss of a child. Both suffered from chronic mental conditions for which society had little sympathy (Lincoln was depressive and Darwin was subject to crippling anxiety attacks). Both were sloppy dressers. Both challenged the accepted social and intellectual standards of their times and became the centers of intense controversies. The dust from their controversies still hasn't settled. In death, both have been attacked for words they never said and ideas they never supported. Both have been reduced to cardboard cutouts used to represent simplified versions of their ideas. But in reality, both were a complex as only real people can be.

One hundred years ago today, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had its official birth. The organization came out of a series of meetings between prominent black intellectuals and a few white social activists who were concerned about the assault on the rights of "colored people" embodied by Jim Crow laws and formalized segregation in the Southern states. The organizers planned a kick-off event for the group to coincide with the centennial of Lincoln's birthday, but the event had to be postponed until May. Nevertheless, today is the official birthday of the NAACP.

Though different, all three are often hated by the same people. I hope you're not one of them.

Today is a day for the good guys. Let's raise a cup and thank them for what they gave us.

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