The funeral services of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg celebrated her trailblazing career. As I listened to opera star Denyce Graves sing Deep River at the services, I instantly connected it to several Vineyard historic data points. The song, while written anonymously, was first mentioned in print in 1876 when it was published in the first edition of The Story of the Jubilee Singers. It has been recorded by Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson and many others. But it was the 1917 influential arrangement by Shearer Cottage alum Harry T. Burleigh that made the song popular and what many called perhaps the best known and best-loved spiritual.

Burleigh was one of a number of people from New York and Boston who came frequently to the Vineyard and stayed at Shearer Cottage. He spent 30 summers at Shearer, beginning in 1915. While on the Island he would arrange, write and compose music daily on the piano in a quiet room in the Grace Episcopal Church parish house in Vineyard Haven. He also served as a recruitment troubadour, bringing to his special orbit at Shearer Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, a former student at Fisk University and a past member of The Jubilee Singers, Ethel Waters and many more.

When thinking of the equity and justice that RBG stood for, I think of our beloved Prof. Charles Ogletree who was the founding executive director of The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Tree, as he is affectionately called, first achieved celebrity in the late 1980s when he moderated the television series Ethics in America. He became nationally known in 1991 when he represented Anita Hill during the confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas.

As I think of the hearing for now Justice Thomas, many thought that the true successor to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Leon Higgenbothem, should have been nominated.

Higgenbothem was a legal giant with broad and significant civic, community and judicial credentials. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the Federal Trade Commission, making him the first African American to ever serve on a federal regulatory commission. President Johnson nominated him as a federal judge in the eastern district of Pennsylvania. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit where he remained for 16 years. But he was also a champion for civil rights and fairness and equity, like Ginsberg and Ogletree. A past president of the Philadelphia Branch of the NAACP, he was the author of In the Matter of Color. The judge was married to the brilliant scholar Prof. Evelyn Brooks Higgenbothem and they enjoyed many friends and colleagues over the years here on the Vineyard.

Deep River is a one-of-a kind spiritual that stirs my soul at every word. It is a reminder of the brutal past of slavery and segregation but also holds out hope for the promised land. Thanks to Burleigh for making it so popular. RBG, Leon Higgenbothem and Charles Ogletree each fought for a more just society for the least among us, as the nation still works for a more perfect union. We should all be grateful for their vision, their dedication and their challenge to each of us to walk their walk so that all can enjoy the promised land here on earth.

Paradise on earth is living the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it as life is fleeting!