The Meaning of Shirley Temple

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right." We don’t have her any more after her death Monday night, and the truth is we are not all right.

Shirley Temple and her iconic screen presence were a tribute to an America that believed in innocence, even during a dark era when millions of Americans were out of work and desperate to find a path back to normalcy. Temple’s screen presence, a cherubic, delightful, utterly charming persona, was a balm for those in the audience who needed a respite from the daily terrors of insolvency and loss of faith in their future.

Temple was innocent enough that when she danced with the legendary black dancer Bill Robinson in The Little Colonel, no one gave a hoot that the interracial teaming was a watershed moment.

More than anything, Temple represented the wide-eyed innocence that America once believed was the natural province of childhood.

All of that has changed now. Our children can no longer turn on the TV without seeing rampant sexual activity paraded in front of them; without being instructed in their schools about sexual issues that once were assumed to be more appropriately discussed by adults; without being led by an Administration that seems highly preoccupied with sexual matters and uses them to vilify those who believe in innocence, and runs amok with its obsession for speaking on matters once considered private.

The loss of innocence of our children is a national disgrace; the yielding of values that protected their innocence is cause for mourning. We are dealing with a culture that is hell-bent on destroying any semblance of the traditional American reverence for protecting the innocent. 

The death of Shirley Temple, the icon of exactly how joyful a childhood can be without the burdens of matters that more properly belonged to adults, should be a wake-up call for those of us who still believe in the innocence of children and a clarion call to action to take our culture back from those who seek to steal that innocence away.

Thank you, Shirley, for giving us images that we can use to remember what innocence was and inspire us to fight to restore it.


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