Volume 14, Issue 14 ~ April 6 - April 12, 2006


A Week Heroes Died

by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Anniversaries do their work well. Their cyclic return routinizes the scalding novelty of joy and tragedy into the rhythm of 365 ordinary days. So when the shadow of Martin Luther King’s death falls on us, as it has this week, our grief is a distant memory of an age when kings and heroes lived — and died.

Anniversaries put Death in his place, whence he has no business recruiting the living into his hall of fame. Lest Death overhear, we whisper our praise of friends and neighbors.

We have praised too loudly, and Death has heard. Over two weeks, he has claimed two of Chesapeake Country’s best men, men who expanded our hearts and our reach.

First, on March 24, he claimed Leonard Blackshear.

Then, on April 3, he stole Tom Abercrombie.

Tom lived the life girls and boys dream of — and adulthood relinquishes as one more lost dream. He was an explorer in the mythic sense, traveling to faraway places to see amazing sights and try out for himself life’s odd variations. A National Geographic photographer and writer for 40 years, Tom reported his experiences in 39 major photo features to awe us stay-at-homes. The Arab world was his spiritual home, and Chesapeake Country the place he came home to.

Short and bristly and charming, Tom sparked with the energy of all he’d seen and done. Meeting Tom as friend or neighbor, you sparkled a bit, too, and thought far better of yourself because of the company of this man of the world.

Leonard worked miracles. How else to describe how a black man — and not even a Marylander — took a perpetual seat at Annapolis City Dock, companion to all who visit there?

As Martin Luther King had a dream, Leonard Blackshear had a vision. Reading Alex Haley’s Roots, which traces the Haley family history of an African prince sold into slavery at the Annapolis slave market at City Dock, Blackshear dreamed of transforming centuries of wrong in the heart of each person who visited that spot.

Alex Haley would sit there, in bronze, teaching both the bronze children who complete the statuary group and all the real visitors to come.

“Racism did not start in Annapolis,” Leonard said. “But reconciliation did.”

He had not only vision but the persuasive energy to see it through.

Now his miracles touch you from the outside in. Sit alongside Haley or walk the Haley Passage, reading the lessons set into bronze and granite along the Compromise Street side of City Dock, right along the water behind the Alex Haley Statue. You’ll feel the power of present goodwill rise in reconciliation within your heart.

When we knew such men as our neighbors, we lived in a land of heroes.

Now that they’re gone, we’ll have to grow to their measure — or live in a world reduced.

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