What's My Line?
Smile for a Saturday
This week we celebrated a historic American milestone with the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
The occasion got us thinking of the fraught and painful journey toward full equality for marginalized groups and women in our national story — and how much of that journey remains.
How many people of incredible talent, ability, ingenuity, industriousness, integrity, creativity, and a whole host of other positive attributes have been restricted, denigrated, and deprived due to the circumstances of their birth? How much has our country and the larger world lost due to the perpetuation of injustice?
What is so remarkable, and this is echoed in Justice Jackson’s example, is how despite the hurdles our society stacks in front of people, how many have still triumphed over the odds. And yet, no matter how much individuals are able to accomplish, there are still limits that take longer to vanquish.
For most of my early life, Black and women elected officials were almost as rare as unicorns. Slowly, far too slowly, and with incredible struggle, courageous individuals helped forge progress. Subsequent generations stood on the shoulders of those who came before them.
For this Smile for a Saturday, we are trying something a little different. We are going back deep into the archives of television history. For people of a certain age, and I imagine that includes many of you, the show “What’s My Line?” was a staple of household viewing. For those who might not know, it consisted of a panel of famous judges who had to deduce the professions of people by asking yes or no questions. There was also a celebrity round, where the judges were blindfolded.
We found a clip from 1953 when Eleanor Roosevelt was the guest. It is a snapshot in time, of the mores of the age, of what television used to be like, and of how this historic figure was viewed. Consider how even years after the death of her husband, she is referred to as Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is a reminder that even though she was a political figure of incredible skill, a leader and an activist who helped usher forth a more just America, there were limits to what society would let her accomplish. Almost no one would have imagined she herself could have been president. Consider that there was only one woman in the Senate at the time.
Nevertheless, seeing Eleanor Roosevelt once more in this excerpt — with her charm, unflappable demeanor, and deep humanity on full display — brought a smile to our faces. And it made us reflect on the pioneers of the past and how far we have come, even though there is so much farther to go.