During the past two weeks there has been quite a bit of pomp and circumstance and celebration of the life of John Lewis, a civil rights icon and hero. Lewis doubtless well-deserves these accolades.
Lewis was in the vanguard of the civil rights movement of the late 50s and 60s, was in harm’s way of the segregationist resistance, and was beaten and jailed for his pains. He brought attention to the injustice of racial segregation and consequent oppression that existed in the southern United States, and elsewhere in the nation. For that everyone should honor him.
Easy to miss among the Lewis mourning is a death of another civil rights hero, if less than an icon, Herman Cain. Few of us had ever heard his name until he offered himself as a candidate for President of the United States in 2012.
Cain’s accomplishment in the private sector showed what intelligence, education, and persistence could do for an individual, even if he had been born and raised as a black person in a racially segregated society. The elimination of legal barriers to individuals like him did not themselves change the hearts and minds of many who thought that black persons were inherently less capable than those of lighter complexion. Nevertheless, Cain did a lot to dispel that notion.
He was educated at Morehouse College in Georgia, a historically black institution, and received a Master’s degree from Purdue University. His college major was mathematics, certainly not the easiest discipline one can study.
Cain worked first for Coca-Cola, became a vice president with Pillsbury, then was appointed to run its struggling Burger King unit in the Philadelphia area. His success prompted Pillsbury officials to ask Cain to take over its floundering Godfather’s Pizza chain. His success in industry showed that a person of his complexion and ancestry certainly had the qualifications for running large businesses, including bringing one back to profitability. As an executive he certainly had experience to rival the present incumbent of the White House, and vastly more than its previous occupant, both of whom he sought to challenge for the office.
Many statues commemorating past public and private individuals are currently under attack, and in some cases destroyed by vandals. Some of those persons probably do not to be so commemorated, but all heroes have flaws, including Cain and Lewis, both of whom are worthy of eponymous streets, statues, and institutions.
There is a lot more to say about Herman Cain, and others will surely say it. I close with this thought: May he rest in peace.