On February 17, 2014 the nation takes time to celebrate and honor the long line and legacy of the forty-two men who have served as president of the United States of America. From George Washington to Barack Obama, we take pause to reflect on the mighty challenge of standing at the helm of the greatest nation in the world. Regardless of political (or apolitical) leanings, it is a position worthy of bestowing honor.
Now, on the same day, here in the Montgomery County Public School District, President’s Day is coupled with another day of commemoration (only a bit more provincial) called Virginia Heroes Day. I’m not as familiar with Virginia Heroes Day but some have shared it used to be called Confederate Memorial Day, a time to honor those who died fighting for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. As I do more research to learn more about Confederate Memorial Day, I’ll do my part to add to the depth and breadth of Virginia Heroes Day.
It is important to first start with an operational definition of what a hero. Is it a war record? Is it leadership in government? Is it facing indomitable odds? Is it simply living in today’s world? Truth is, heroism takes many forms and meanings constructed by the perspectives of diverse individuals.
Two dominant names lifted high on Virginia Heroes Day are General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson and General Robert E. Lee. If you’re not familiar with these names, a simple Google search will yield pages and pages for your edification. While they are important and impactful figures in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is important to expand the list of heroes who also served to shape the beautiful landscape of Virginia.
James Armistead Lafayette (1748-1830) was born into slavery. He joined the American Continental Army to fight for the American Revolution under Marquis de Lafayette. During this time he became a spy where his intel enabled Washington’s army to prevent 10,000 British soldiers from invading Yorktown, which led to the British surrender on October 19, 1781. (Now you won’t believe this part) He returned to slave life until granted emancipation by petition in 1787.
Many of you may know the story of Dred Scott(1795-1858). Born into slavery on the Peter Blow farm, Scott is best known for fighting legally for his freedom and the freedom of his family. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Scott in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857. Seeing the Scotts as too controversial to keep, then owner, Mrs. Emerson, returned the Scotts to the Blow family who granted their freedom in May 1857.
Mary Elizabeth Bowser (1839-unknown) of Richmond, VA was a Union spy working as a servant for Varina Davis, wife of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Her actions were recognized as she was inducted into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in 1995.
Barbara Johns (1935-1991) grew up in Farmville, Prince Edward County. As a sixteen year old junior at Robert Russa Moton High School she organized a student strike for a new school building (1951). The NAACP advised the students to sue for integration. The Farmville case was one of the five eventually rolled into the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that declared segregation unconstitutional (1954).
There are many, many more names and experiences which have impacted the historic timeline of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world. It is important we expand our ideas of who our heroes are and hold them high for all to see. Take the time and learn for yourself.
Remember, A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. ~ Christopher Reeves
Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novella, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim. He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the forthcoming Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. BCEPressworks.com