In this time of rage and polemic, I try to take time to remember what I love most about this country—its role as a seedbed for ideas and expressions that found the freedom to grow here. There are the broader cultural forms such as jazz and bluegrass and situation comedies. But there are also the courageously individual visionaries who win my love though they may not have triumphed in the culture wars to date.

So for this Fourth of July here’s a brief tribute to Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825-1875), a brilliant and all but unknown African-American physician, world traveler, author, orator, abolitionist, friend of Lincoln, founder of the first Rosicrucian order in the United States and an advocate of sex magic as a means of spiritual realization. It is terror that many feel upon reading the words “sex magic” that likely accounts for Randolph’s continued obscurity. That is a shame. Randolph’s sex magic was no more and no less than a mindful and loving ritual union of mind and body.

But Randolph’s books explored all manner of esoteric horizons. He had observed and studied with practitioners around the world. The reason for these travels was steeped in family tragedy. His mother, a woman of multiple races, died when Randolph was a boy, leaving him penniless in New York City. His father, of powerful white Virginia lineage, did not give a damn what happened to him. So Randolph became a sailor and ultimately found the sustenance to earn a medical degree. He became so close to Lincoln that he rode on the train with the president’s body back to its gravesite in Springfield, Illinois. He tutored illiterate freed slaves. He was an advocate not only of political freedom but of ultimate freedom of thought and of the spirit.

The photograph is of Randolph at the height of his renown.

Lawrence Sutin