This is one of those days when the stars aligned to produce a whole lot of notables – today we celebrate a long list of overachievers, from early American theologian Jonathan Edwards in 1703 to Kate Winslet two hundred and seventy-two years later.
In between, among others, Denis Diderot, Chester A. Arthur, Louis Lumiere, Ralph Goddard, Ray Kroc, Glynis Johns, Philip Berrigan, Louise Fitzhugh, Autherine Lucy, Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, Vaclav Havel and Bob Geldof.
Whose name leaps out at you, whose life has had the greatest effect on the lives of others? Louis Lumiere certainly has a claim – he and his brother inherited their father’s film factory and went on to make one of the first motion pictures ever. Here are workers leaving the factory in 1895:
Certainly we all owe a lot to Ray Kroc – who didn’t grow up on McDonald’s? Until we found out it wasn’t good for us, we thought it was a great idea.
But there is something special about the people who, rather than affect our behavior, have an effect on character. So Vaclav Havel, the one shining modern example of poet as legislator, deserves a place at the top of the list. He has the distinction, btw, of being the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.
At the very top I would put Autherine Lucy, a person who did not aspire to greatness necessarily, but had the courage to do what had to be done. She was the first African-American student at the University of Alabama. When she applied and the university was forced to accept her to the graduate school – she planned to study library science – they didn’t give her a dormitory room or allow her to use the dining halls.
In 1956, on the third day of classes, Autherine was prevented from entering her classroom by an angry mob, so the university suspended her temporarily, saying they couldn’t guarantee her safety. When (with the help of the NAACP) she sued the university, they expelled her for slandering them.
Those three days were the extent of her attendance until 1980, when the University of Alabama – after thinking it over for 24 years apparently – reversed the decision to expel her. She returned in 1992 to get a master’s degree in elementary education. Many happy returns to Autherine Lucy, who celebrates 81 years today.