Two people, both of whom I admired greatly, passed away this Sunday. Oliver Hill, the Virginia civil rights giant, died at his home in Richmond. He was 100. It’s already been noted in the blogosphere here, here, and here, among other places. There’s also a very nice memorial tribute to his life on the front page of today's Washington Post.
Hill was elected to the Richmond city council in 1948, the first black in 50 years to serve there. He is remembered and revered in Virginia for his role in challenging the separate but equal clause that formed the basis of school segregation in the South. Hill was the lead lawyer in Davis v the County School Board of Prince Edwards County, Virginia. That was one of five cases that were rolled into the landmark Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954 that helped end legal segregation.
Hill also helped devise legal strategies to combat Virginia’s massive resistance to desegregation, including ways to keep public schools open when they were closing rather than admit black students. In addition, he fought for equal pay for black teachers in Norfolk Hill
Oliver Hill withstood threats and intimidation including having a cross burned on his front lawn. In fact, his wife put up floodlights on their lawn because of these threats.
Today, the Washington Post also carried this obituary of Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger, 80, who died in Paris. He had been archbishop of Paris in the 1980s. He was an intimate of Pope John Paul II. In many ways, he was a traditionalist, but he always promoted ecumenicism and dialogue with other faiths.
Lustiger was born Aaron Lustiger to Polish Jewish immigrants in France. During World War II, he converted to Catholicism at the age of 15 and later entered the priesthood. His mother, Gisele Lustiger, was killed in Auschwitz. Lustiger made it his life work to reconcile Jews and Catholics in Europe and he strongly supported Israel, making many trips there.
Both men, Hill and Lustiger, experienced the darker side of human nature. Both listened to their better angels. These men realized that to keep a man in the gutter, you have to get in it with him. Instead, they chose to lift humankind higher.
I expect that when both of them see the face of God, they will also hear the voice of God and it will be saying, “Well done faithful servant!”