Despite all the deserving praise heaped upon Steve Jobs, and by inference his technological peers for their great gifts to our society and world, millions do not fully appreciate those gifts. To appreciate them at a visceral level requires something that is intimidating even to contemplate: Try going a week without using our cell phones, laptops, iPhones, iPads, iPods, the Internet, etc. Perhaps the word “unthinkable” is more appropriate than “intimidating.”
Now let’s think about two other icons (Fred Shuttlesworth and Derrick Bell) who left us last week and try to contemplate their great gifts and those of their peers with names like Medgar, Martin, Rosa, Fannie Lou, A. Phillip, Roy, Whitney, Jim Farmer, Bayard, Thurgood, Septima, Stokely, Hosea, Coretta, Ben, Dorothy, et al who preceded them in death. Their gifts and their sacrifices consummated the civil rights movement.
They moved us from a time when Washington, D.C. was a Jim Crow city and Nazi prisoners of war — in the U.S. — were granted privileges denied the black GI’s who guarded them. Facilities for the blind were segregated by race; it was illegal to transfuse the blood of an African American into a white person; it was not unusual for hotels and motels to permit the pet dog of white guests to spend the night but no African American citizen could spend the night, etc., etc.
I shudder to think about asking any American to put aside for a week the effects of Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to appreciate the gifts of Fred Shuttlesworth, Bell and their peers. The fact that the mere thought of giving up such rights for a week shakes us — and should help us grasp the magnitude of their gifts.