The Five-Year-Old Ambassador

The Five-Year-Old Ambassador

Blizzardpallooza 2 caught me a bit short of time this week, but let me see if I can “Twitter size” a column for you while allowing the rather large picture you see with this piece to convey a message that needs few words.

Five-year-old Austin Rhodes loved TV. He loved Star Trek, The Monkees, Land of the Giants, Mission Impossible and The Mod Squad. And he really loved watching old movies on TV.

Of course, he had the classic shorts like The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals to laugh with, but he was particularly enamored with this incredibly adorable little girl who seemed to have an endless stream of classics that they could always toss on come Saturday afternoon. She was the same as he was, yet she was 100 times more articulate, brighter and capable of singing and dancing like a little angel.

Let the record show, little Austin loved Shirley Temple and, yes, as he got older, he also had a thing for the teenaged Shirley Temple. (If there is a more scandalous premise than what we saw in that era than “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” I never heard about it.)

I did not learn a lot from Shirley Temple movies, but I did learn this: Time after time there was one man in her movie life she could depend on to protect her, guide her and, yes, even play with her. His name was Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

No matter what I heard or picked up from any number of misguided folks who would mouth off within earshot on the topic of race or the alleged issues they had with black folks, I always thought that if Shirley Temple’s best friend was a black man, what in the Hell could possibly be wrong with them?

Lt. Uhura, Dan Erickson, Barney Collier, Linc Hayes… and, for that matter, Stymie and Buckwheat: All were part of teams or groups that I thought were pretty damn awesome, and as I watched their TV adventures through the years, I noticed that they were as capable of love and hate, strength and weakness, and laughter and tears as anyone I knew in the real world and, especially, myself.

Bill Robinson had Shirley’s back… so I had no problem accepting all those other folks stepping up and doing the same for their friends who just happened to look like me, in every conceivable alien world, police stand off or bizarre spy plot you could imagine.

Shirley Temple Black grew up to be an important ambassador, with a great diplomatic career that spanned decades. In remembering her this week, I think one of the most important jobs she ever had was helping introduce an often closed minded nation to the concept of racial equality, harmony and peace. And she did all that when she was five years old.

Rest in peace, Curley Top, and thank you for showing us the way.

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