Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.
Since Black History Month was inaugurated in 1976, Americans have made special note each February of the achievements of black citizens. They’ve played important and often inspirational roles in shaping the country’s history, from the days of slavery through Jim Crow to substantial, if not yet complete, political and social equality today.
It’s understandable that in highlighting this important minority group, we heavily emphasize those men and women who escaped bondage or those in more recent decades who led the civil rights movement. In the case of the latter, we know the names well because they are so recent — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being foremost among them.
Frederick Douglass, the eloquent abolitionist and former slave, extolled the importance of constructive agitation when he declared in an 1857 speech,
The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both mora…