"Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain.” William Jennings Bryan
Last week, on a single day, America lost three outstanding visionaries who in their own ways changed the course of history. On Wednesday, October 5th, Steven P. Jobs, 56; Derrick Bell, 80; and Fred Shuttlesworth, 89 all passed away.
With the formal dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial now set for next Sunday, October 16, many Americans may not be aware that there were other courageous civil rights foot soldiers who stood with Dr. King in the sometimes life-threatening struggle for freedom. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was one of the most fearless and effective champions of the movement.
A Birmingham, Alabama minister and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rev. Shuttlesworth survived numerous beatings, arrests and attacks and boldly stood up to Birmingham’s infamously brutal public safety commissioner, Eugene “Bull” Connor.
Rev. Shuttlesworth was one of hundreds of peaceful protesters who were viciously attacked by state troopers on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, as they attempted to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery to petition for African American voting rights. This incident awakened the conscience of the nation and led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Derrick Bell, the first tenured African American professor at Harvard Law School, also died last Wednesday. Professor Bell’s provocative “critical race theory,” the study of institutional racism in America, became an intellectual touchstone of the modern civil rights movement. In his many books and law review articles, he courageously challenged the status quo. In 1985, he resigned his Harvard professorship because of his determined fight to bring the diverse perspectives of people of color and women into the Law School. He once said, "In all my courses, I really have to teach the basic messages of my life ... that the rewards, the satisfactions, are not in being partner or making a million dollars, but in recognizing evils, recognizing injustices and standing up and speaking out about them even in absolutely losing situations where you know it's not going to bring about any change — that there are intangible rewards to the spirit that make that worthwhile.”
Finally, last Wednesday the nation was saddened by the news of the passing of Steven P. Jobs, the still young co-founder of Apple who embodied the potential of digital technology to change the social and cultural landscape of the world. Jobs’s Apple products – Mac computers, the iphone, ipod and ipad -- have become “must have” tools of modern communication. I suppose it is no surprise that Mac computers are prevalent at National Urban League headquarters in New York as they are in millions of homes and businesses around the world.
Jobs’ genius was not only his technical and marketing expertise, but also his commitment to using the power of digital technology to build a stronger global community.
On behalf of the board and staff and affiliates of the National Urban League, I want to express my gratitude for the visionary leadership of Fred Shuttlesworth, Derrick Bell and Steve Jobs. They will be sorely missed.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.