2005 got off to a bad start. First, there was that inauguration. Then, within a single week, Ossie Davis and Arthur Miller both died.
They were good deaths, as deaths go. Davis was 87 and Miller was 89. They were both living active and creative lives to the very end. Davis was about to start filming a new movie. Miller died with a short story in the current issue of Harpers magazine. No artist would complain about those endings.
But the near-simultaneous passing of these two men is certainly a bad omen for the rest of us. Davis and Miller were among our last living connections to a style of cultural politics that was not "pop" or academic, but was rooted in the lived experience and struggle of ordinary people. They were radical democrats who believed, above all, in the potential greatness of Americas sometimes silent, and often silenced, majority.
Both of these men were products of the Great Depression. Davis came from rural Georgia and hitchhiked to Washington, D.C., to enter Howard University in 1935. Millers family owned a successful coat manufacturing business in Manhattan and then lost everything in the 1929 crash. Soon the boy whod grown up riding in limousines found himself working in a warehouse to save money for college.