Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Tribute to Anne Braden

By Rich Miles

Anne Braden passed away last month, on March 6, 2006. She was 81 years old, what the country folks sometimes call a “goodish age”. She worked virtually till her dying day, and was said to be “annoyed” when the doctors told her she’d have to go into the hospital. She lived more life in those 81 years, made more friends (and enemies), served more causes and more just plain folks than most of us could hope to if we were given 5 times that many years.

I’m not going to sit here and give a rundown of the many accomplishments of the life and career of Anne Braden – a career that started in earnest when I was about a year old, and continued unabated until just last month. Pretty much all of it is part of the public record, and I encourage you to seek it out if you haven’t already done so. Her life, her truth, makes a good read.

Instead, I’d like to tell you about what Anne has left us: what she created for us in life, and what she has bequeathed us at her passing.

Anne McCarty Braden was, to all appearances, no one’s idea of a formidable opponent. She stood about 5 feet tall, even a bit shorter in her later years, and was a slim girl of 23 or so when she arrived back in Louisville in 1947, having been born here but raised in Anniston Alabama. But despite her diminutive physical stature, she had something about her that would not be beaten down, not for the entire 52 years during which she worked for civil rights and racial equality - and that something is the real gift she has left us here today, and for years to come.

For if a life such as Anne Braden’s can be summed up in one word, that word would be: courage.

Not the kind of courage that a soldier needs to face battle and possible death, though she received more than her share of death threats. Not the courage of a firefighter or a policeman or woman, to protect us from the accidents and ills of daily life. But courage all the same.

Courage to see wrong, and do all in our power to right it. Courage to see social institutions in need of change, and do what we can to effect those changes. Courage to see that there are people who will never believe what you believe, and yet keep putting out your message of peace and understanding and harmony among all races and nations, knowing that some will hear and scoff, but every once in a while, some will hear and change, some will join your fight, and some will, with luck and God’s help, even surpass you, and make the world a better place to live in for all of us – even the scoffers. Even the threateners. Even the haters.

The things Anne Braden did almost daily, and more importantly the reasons for them, have lost currency in our world today – it’s become almost unbearably “corny” to speak of changing the world, of creating a space where peace may thrive among individuals or among nations. Those who do this work are called hippies, dreamers, idealists, and worse. Anne was often called a Communist back when that term was the bugbear of the day. She was arrested twice on charges of sedition – a word we hardly hear today, whose antiquated roots embrace the very ancient and ongoing practice of governments attempting to silence their opposition. And still she kept at it. Still she saw that, no matter how much we might SAY that racial equality was growing and thriving in America, we did not always, perhaps did not often live up to our own standards. She saw this right up to the day she died, and she never stopped working and fighting for what she believed was simply – right.

And that – more than anything else she could have given us – is what she has left for us to do. We must have the courage to speak truth to power, as she did. We must have the courage to make it clear that war is never the answer, that racism is never acceptable, that hatred is its own reward – all we get from it is more hatred.

This is in large part why I feel the need to write these words. Our issue of the moment is not that of Anne Braden, but we need her courage and dedication to address our issue as well as to continue addressing hers. No one person, not even an Anne Braden, ever solves these problems all by herself, or all at once. It’s a long, hard job, and there’s not likely to be a break or an endpoint, or a place where we can say, the job is done - not in our lifetimes at any rate. But the more of us there are, and the more we can muster the courage of an Anne Braden, the greater the chance that some day, long after we’ve all gone to dust, our children or our children’s children may be able to say “I wonder why those people so long ago thought racism and war were so important? We don’t do that any more.”

It’s a fond dream, and perhaps mankind can never get there – that’s what a lot of so-called experts think, that we as a species can never get beyond hatred. But Anne Braden believed we could. Her whole life was dedicated to the proposition that we could. And the best we can do as her survivors is to do all in our power to prove her right.

If your beliefs include the idea of an afterlife, perhaps we can envision Anne now, finally getting to rest and finally seeing her beloved Carl again after 31 years without him. But Anne is still with us in spirit, in our hearts and minds and actions even now that death has taken her out of our sight. If there’s a better measure of immortality available to any of us, I can’t imagine what it would be.

Rest well, Anne – you’ve earned it.

And to those who read these words, keep the faith – what you do matters. If nothing else, the life of Anne Braden proves that.

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