will be who have no memorial . . . but their righteousness hath not been forgotten."
--- Ecclesiasticus 44:9-10
As a movie reviewer a long time ago I discovered an obscure book, Let Us Now Praise
Famous Men by a then-relatively unknown novelist, James Agee, who went on to win a
Pulitzer Prize for his A Death in the Family. Let Us Now Praise... was non-fiction, a
428-page opus of stark realism is prefaced by soul-etching photos of dirt-poor cotton
tenant farmers in the Depression era, as taken by award-winning Fortune photographer
Fooled by the title, thinking it was Agee's film reviews, I wondered why praise famous
men? Don't they get enough adulation? Why not celebrate the unknown, the unheralded, the
giants of the earth such as author O.E. Rolvaag described America's prairie pioneers in
his epic novel about Norwegian immigrants?
Soon enough I discovered the irony of the title. Agee's subjects were distinctly
non-famous, God-fearing, America-loving one-and-two mule tenant farmers in Alabama during
the New Deal. Agree's "Let Us Now Praise..." was real-life stuff, an infinitely
powerful, dignified portrayal of the dismal lives of three dirt-poor farm families in
With that in mind, I wondered who else among the non-famous, the unsung, deserve a
little praise. My personal list follows, more or less off the top. No doubt hundreds
additional names could be added, their noble natures celebrated. Call this, then, a
-- A lone Chinese student protester, singly defying a bristling-with-guns tank in
Tiananmen Square, just before the massacre there in 1989. He stood bravely, untentativley
-- Ordinary folks who drop everything, drive miles, clutch homemade placards,
participating in liberal media-dissed (and mostly ardent Democrat-despised) "tea
parties." Deeply motivated protest, civilly and constitutionally, they call attention
to the rapid excesses of (still) their government, its spending sprees, its compression of
-- A shipyard electrician in Poland for whom fame finally arrived, Lech Walesa (1943 -
). With the support of freedom-loving Pope John Paul II, his fellow countryman, Walesa
spearheaded the unions' Solidarity Movement, proving the power of being right can defeat
the most sinister tyranny.
-- Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989), famous in his field (nuclear physics) but not beyond
it. Exiled in his own country, the Soviet Union, for speaking out, he challenged his
government's illegitimate premises of raws power over the people.
-- Toussaint L'Overture (1743? - 1803) led the largest slave rebellion in history. It
ended slavery in a former French colony, now Haiti, thence throughout the British empire.
Sixty years later, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
-- Hungarians, yearning for freedom in 1956, inspired by Prime Minister Imre Nagy
(1896-1958) and his General Pal Maleter (1917-1958), among others. Both men were executed
by the Soviet Union in 1958 after a show trial.
-- Baghdad mobs pulled down the statute of Saddam Hussein, then trod on it with their
feet, a mark of disrespect. Add to the list, native Iraqi translators and interpreters for
the liberating coalition's armed forces. They bravely faced death daily, and remain
forever nameless, unsung heroes in their country.
-- Countless millions who died in the shuffle of tyrants, facing the murderous horrors
of monsters such as Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin and Mao.
-- Whitaker Chambers (1901-61) warned of home-bred communists, such as Alger Hiss, in
the State Department. His landmark book, Witness (1952) is a testament to freedom.
-- Raul Wallenberg (1912-?) died anonymous in a Soviet prison after saving the lives of
thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. As Swedish general counsel he was captured in 1945
by advancing Soviet troops and imprisoned, then died behind the Iron Curtain.