This Sunday at Virginia-Highland Church, the modern lesson will be taken from the movie “Hidden Figures.” If you have not seen it, you must. It is, of course, the story of the African-American women who were the “hidden figures” that made early space exploration possible and successful. It is an amazing story based on several heroes who names we never knew. I found their stories deeply moving and a bit disturbing.
It was disturbing to realize that, despite being reasonably well informed and well read, I can’t help but wonder how much I don’t know about so much. How many hidden figures are there? How many times do the stories and accomplishments of women; people of color; undocumented immigrants; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people; and others get erased or go unreported?
I taught a class on LGBT history last semester at Hartford Seminary. After teaching only courses on congregational life and renewal for the past decade, I had to scramble to remember my own history. As I read several books to prepare, it struck me how much I never knew and how much I had forgotten. After re-reading the 500-page book Hidden History, I felt like a course of only one semester was an insult to so many heroic women and men. And what about the history of Native Americans; or Africans prior to American enslavement; or the indigenous people of Hawaii; or women leaders prior to gaining the right to vote; or …
While we know the names of presidents and other public leaders, the one thing of which I am increasingly clear is that history is largely shaped by “hidden figures.” Perhaps we should resolve to shut off the TV and close our laptops and read more of these hidden stories about unsung heroes. This is more important now than ever, with a dominant culture pretending that white men are somehow oppressed.
We need to honor these hidden figures who made a difference. After all, learning about them and honoring them may be the only way we, too, can become one of those unsung heroes that shapes the world for the better.
Rev. Michael Piazza