Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, have had a front row seat at their 51 year old daughter’s confirmation proceedings to be appointed the first Black woman to the United States Supreme Court during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s public hearings this week. Their faces remained noncommittal, even stoic, when their daughter’s faith, views on pornography, questions of character were attacked by the Republican Senators in the room.
The confirmation hearings that began with President Joe Biden’s nomination of Judge Jackson had a zoo-like quality with the zookeeper a/k/a Chairman Dick Durbin doing his best to maintain order – decorum was out the window. Johnny and Ellery Brown had undoubtedly seen worse behavior as natives of Miami growing up in the Jim Crow South but as public school teachers in Washington, D.C. they had also seen the impact of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s which gave their children more opportunities for success. Judge Jackson was born on September 14, 1970 in Washington, D.C.
When Judge Jackson was 27 years old in 1997, a woman named Madeleine Albright, who then President Bill Clinton had nominated to become the first female Secretary of State, went through her own Senate confirmation hearings in an atmosphere much less combative than the circus she was forced to endure. Republican Senator Jesse Helms who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee led then United Nations Ambassador Albright through the process that ended in a unanimous Senate vote to confirm. Wow. Those were the days.
Madeleine Albright was born on May 15, 1937 in Prague, Czechoslovokia (now the Czech Republic). In 1939 the Nazi occupation forced her family to become refugees in England, but they returned home after World War II; only to flee again when the communist coup occurred. Her father Josef Korbel had been a member of the Czechoslovokian diplomatic service and sentenced to death by the communist regime. The second time her family fled Madeleine and her mother Anna took a ship to Ellis Island in November, 1948; Josef joined them later. They eventually settled in Denver, Colorado where Josef accepted a postion at the University of Denver.
Madeleine Albright’s storied career represents to me the best of America. To be “the first” woman in any field, to be known as a woman who “tells it like it is,” to successfully navigate the political land mines of our nation’s Capitol to serve our country in an ever changing world – these are accomplishments we celebrate; but to achieve as an outsider, a refugee, demands our highest honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Madeleine Albright died yesterday, March 23, 2022 following a long battle with an enemy we all know: cancer.
The first woman ever called Madam Secretary of State left us as the first Black woman battled for her position on the Supreme Court in a contentious, even embarrassing at times, public hearing while her parents, husband, daughters, brother and others watched. The coincidental timing was remarkable to me.
Yet I had a spirit of hope for the future when I heard Judge Jackson’s answers to the questions posed yesterday, a glimmer of hope for equality and fairness for my granddaughters. I also felt that same spirit of hope in the legacy Madeleine Albright leaves, her persistence in pursuing freedom for all nations, the world peace she strived for. I salute both of these warrior women during Women’s History Month for their shared destiny, for the heritage we can honor by emulating their courage in our own outrageous acts of everyday rebellions.