January 4, 2012
Today’s New York Times has obituaries for two Americans who are heroes to me. Their passing is sad news, but both lived long, honest, brave lives. “Hero,” by the way, comes from the Greek “hero,” which means demi-god. But it’s remarkable how often true heroes are ordinary women and men who rise to the occasion by simply doing the right thing.
One of this morning’s heroes is Gordon Hirabayashi, who was arrested for resisting the U.S. government’s detention order for Japanese citizens on the West Coast as World War II began. He steadfastly believed his rights as an American citizen had been violated, and four decades later he was vindicated. He never gave up. Hirabayashi went on to teach at the American University of Beirut, the American University in Cairo and in Canada at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. (It is both telling and sad that he chose to teach outside the United States.) Hirabayashi was 93 at the time of his passing.
The other hero of the morning is Robert L. Carter, a stalwart architect of the fight against “legal” school segregation waged and won by the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. That long struggle bore fruit (though it was far from over) in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka School Board decision. Carter went on to become a federal judge. He was 94.
Perhaps the header for this post should, instead, be “Meanings: Equal Protection.” Both Hirabayashi and Carter fought long and valiantly to give meaning to these simple, enduring words from the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”