Technological development moves at a rapid pace. I bought an iPhone eleven twenty-one months ago. The iPhone fourteen is out now and people are going bat crazy over it. My cell phone service has been emailing me incessantly over the last three months, trying to get me to purchase the new iPhone. Their pitch is to pay off the balance I yet owe on the phone I have so that I might be sitting pretty like countless others, enjoying the latest in communication technology. People are aware of new communications technology, and they want to be right there amidst it. To the contrary, society’s consciousness about social issues doesn’t develop at a pace necessary to keep instep with needed justice and equal treatment of all.
Recently, my Sunday newspaper contained an article about James Meredith, an African American who bravely enrolled in the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in 1962. Meredith, as did several African Americans, of all ages, stepped from a social frying pan into an inferno when they bravely crossed the thresholds of all-white educational institutions in the South during the 1950s and 60s. His act resulted in violence from Ole Miss students, members of the local community and folks from outside of the State of Mississippi. Five hundred federal law enforcement agents were required to protect the life of Meredith and to attempt to keep the peace. On Thursday, September 29, the University of Mississippi recognized Meredith for what he did sixty years ago. There were accolades showered upon him for his bravery in doing something that should have been the right of every American citizen to do, enroll in a public educational institution. The retired assistant provost at Ole Miss, Donald Cole said of Meredith, “He came and revolutionized our thinking. He came to open our closed society.” At age eighty-nine Meredith finally got his much deserved fifteen minutes of fame.
Following the article about James Meredith, my newspaper contained another article about delayed recognition. The article was announcing the death of the Native American activist and actor Sacheen Littlefeather. In 1973, Sacheen, made a speech on behalf of the actor Marlon Brando of Godfather fame. Brando had declined to appear at the Academy awards to accept his award for best actor in the Godfather movie. While on stage, Littlefeather spoke about the mistreatment and misrepresentation of Native Americans in the entertainment industry. Her comments were met with some applause and much booing. According to her, in an interview she sat through later, John Wayne was so moved with anger, security personnel had to restrain him from physically attacking her. As a result of Sacheen’s speech, her acting career was torpedoed before it gained momentum. It is strangely ironic that two weeks before Sacheen’s death the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offered a long overdue public apology to Sacheen for the treatment she received nearly fifty years ago when she made her speech at the awards ceremony.
The list of forward-thinking individuals who brought socially redeeming thoughts to the table years before those thoughts were widely accepted is impressive. These individuals are showered with distain at the time they spoke, protested, or took some other action that elevated their thoughts to discussion in the public square. Later, sometimes when they’re dead, people from across the social spectrum can’t quote them enough. I suppose innovative thinking must sit awhile to allow the rest of us to catch up.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.