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Reflections on Oliver Hill's first century.

One of the definitions of hero in the Oxford English Dictionary is "a man who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action, or in connection with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a man admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities."

In many stories we are told of brave men who fit that definition, but who either do not live to see the fruits of their courage or are defeated in their struggle.

We here in Richmond had the opportunity to rejoice with a hero when Oliver White Hill celebrated his 100th birthday May 5 at a black-tie dinner in a crowded ballroom at Richmond's Marriott Hotel.

Gov. Timothy Kaine, five former governors (Linwood Holton, Gerald Baliles, Charles Robb, Mark Warner and L. Douglas Wilder), Delegate Bobby Scott and 1,000 others came to show their admiration for the man who had, with other outstanding lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall and Spotswood Robinson, summoned the courage to fight the post-Reconstruction segregation and to carry Brown v. Board of Education through to victory.

Courage it took, for in the first few years of the 20th century, 2,000 blacks had been lynched in the South, and the opposition to integration was rabid and violent.

Guests at the dinner were given a DVD that tells a portion of this story of the African-American struggle for equal rights. In it, Hill acknowledges his fellow heroes and says about the Medal of Freedom given to him by President Clinton: "I also recognize the fact that I didn't earn all of it, I earned part of it. I had a whole lot of help. … I just happened to be lucky enough to live long enough to get the benefit of it."

The May 5 dinner was a happy occasion when a story came to a proper conclusion: An American hero lived to see the recognition of his courage. S

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