In Nelson Mandela and, closer to home, in Lee Hayes we have examples of moral authority, a persistent strength in the face of injustice, made all the more notable for their refusals to succumb to bitterness.
There are very few humans who exhibit that charity, that superior strength, which can come out of suffering, but which, in many more instances, can result in resignation or a lust for vengeance.
Mr. Hayes, when I interviewed him years ago, acknowledged that racism had denied him work, following World War II, in the aviation industry, work for which he was impeccably suited, having been a Tuskegee Airman (bombardier, navigator, pilot).
Though those racist rebuffs obviously stung, he was not deterred, not cowed. “You do what you got to do,” he said. “I tried so many things — ice plant, warehouse, custodial work, carpentry, building, selling life insurance — if I could make a living, I didn’t care what it was.”
“The timing wasn’t right,” he summed up when I was about to leave. (This was in 1978.) “Black boys and girls now should be prepared . . . I came along too soon.”
That he was eventually to be celebrated as one of the Tuskegee Airmen — attention that he welcomed, according to his daughter, Karlys, meant, I suppose, that while Lee Hayes may have been born too soon, thankfully he did not die too soon. Justice, long deferred, was accorded him, as it was to Mandela, another dignified man of moral authority who refused to become embittered and who refused to be cowed.