Friday, February 23, 2007

This date in history

Perusing the New York Times this date in history web site page for February 23rd I came across some interesting tidbits. Today's the 52nd anniversary of the first mass inoculation of children against polio with the Salk vaccine. Growing up my father always told me that Jonas Salk was one of the true heroes of the modern age, and I agree with that assessment. Like all historic figures there is some controversy over some of Salk's actions, but the bottom line is that he led the effort to give the world a workable polio vaccine and refused to patent it. His memory deserves the thanks of millions for that act alone.

Also, American educator, writer, and civil rights leader W. E. B. DuBois was born on this date in 1868. DuBois was another truly great American who fought against racism his entire life. The fact that he left this country at the end of his life, discouraged by racism and soured by what he considered our system's failure to bestow true economic, social, and political equality on all our citizens is a stain on our country's history, not a blemish on DuBois himself. Historian David Levering Lewis wrote a magnificent two volume biography of DuBois. W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Biography as well as the Bancroft and Parkman prizes. W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963 won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. I highly recommend both volumes for a clear look at this complex man and the times he lived through.

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