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  • Writer's pictureAmy Bass

The Struggles We Choose

In one of the many pieces I've written about Tommie Smith -- and I'm currently working on another one -- I thought long and hard about what it meant to be a hero, especially Emerson's essay on heroism, in which he writes that a hero is no braver than anyone else, he is just brave for five minutes longer.

It stunned me to think about the moment this past week in the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home in Atlanta when C.T. Vivian and John Lewis were in a room together, side by side -- two Americans who were brave for a long, long time. They met some six decades ago, both Freedom Riders, arrested together in 1963 for using a white bathroom in Mississippi. Racists beat the two of them in Selma just a few weeks apart, each of them trying to register the black vote. Lewis, of course, took office, while Vivian remained at the pulpit, the greatest preacher, according to MLK, no slouch himself.

I keep thinking about Vivian, somewhat overshadowed, dying just hours before the towering figure of Lewis. So I hunted this down, this footage of Vivian staring down the face of segregation one man at a time, peacefully, heroically, preaching equality to those who had no patience for it. "You are made by the struggles you choose," Vivian once said.

We are made by the struggles we choose.

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