Next Monday is the national commemoration of a true hero, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. He is a hero because he brought real change to a nation that needed it, cajoling and demanding that the people of the United States live up to their professed ideals and end the racial discrimination that persisted in spite of laws and rhetoric to the contrary.
There is still racial discrimination practiced in this country, but there is no longer any doubt that equality among individuals is the law of the land. Dr. King changed the standard. The Isthmus editorial staff decided to mark his accomplishment by identifying local folks, deemed heroes by them, who have persisted in pursuing their dreams and confronting circumstances in order to bring about change.
The staffers have selected seven individuals to honor. They are a varied group, with little in common other than their dogged determination to pursue an objective. They include an ex-governor who protected a class of citizens, a victim of cerebral palsy who refuses to act like a victim, an advocate for the homeless who finds worth in those with the least means, a family physician who battles nukes and climate change, an urban farmer who grows community, an advocate for troubled youth, and a boundary-expanding musician.
I did not participate in the exercise. But since we are commemorating the fallen Dr. King, I will recall a couple of personal heroes who also are no longer with us. The first would be Dr. Anthony Brown, who died last year. Among the many achievements in his too-short life was the Pride Classic, a weekend of competition and camaraderie that he organized during the late '80s and early '90s. He brought a number of then prominent athletes and entertainers, mostly black, to town and put some substance in the ideal of racial comity.
The other was Edward Ben Elson, the self-proclaimed loony lawyer who once ran for Dane County district attorney under the slogan "Just Obey Good Laws." He also sold tickets on the comet Kohoutek. In general, he kept Madison on its toes. He died in 1983.
Note: This item originally had Elson making his "good laws" proclamation in a campaign for judge. It's been corrected to reflect that it was his campaign for district attorney.