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The summer 1955 Emmett "Bobo" Till pleaded with his mother to allow him to visit his relatives down in Money, Mississippi. Emmett's great uncle Moses Wright came up from Mississippi to visit his family. On his way back, Uncle Moses was taking Emmett's cousin Wheeler back with him in order to spend time with his relatives. Ordinarily allowing children to visit relatives would be an opportunity not only for the child to bond with their extended family but it also provided a chance for the parent to get a break, but not in this case. Emmett and his mother Mamie lived up North in Chicago and in the 50's things were very different for African Americans in the North than in the South. Before Mamie Till allowed her fourteen year old son to board the bus she gave her son a signet ring that belonged to his father, and looked him square in the eye and told him to "be careful. If you have to get down on your knees and bow when a white person goes past, do it willingly."
Emmett his cousin Wheeler and his great-uncle Moses arrived in Money, Mississippi on August 21st, 1955. While there the boys did normal boy things talk about girls, camped outdoors and fished.
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Both Moses and Elizabeth Wright immediately contacted Mamie Till back in Chicago and informed her of her son's disappearance. The local sheriff and their family tried to look for him in the most palpable places. In other words they looked in places that black people were usually left such as along riverbanks and under bridges. Sure enough three days later young Emmett was found in the Tallahatchie River with a seventy-five pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbwire. His right eye was missing his nose was broken and he had a hold on the side of his head. The only recognizable feature on Till was the ring his mother had given him shortly before he boarded the bus to Money. Despite the attempts of the Mississippi sheriff's department Mamie Till was able to return Emmett's mangled body back to Chicago where she ordered his body to be on display for five days with the intent of exposing what had happened to her only son. During those five days over six hundred thousand people were able to view his body.
When dealing with story of Emmett Till and the case that followed there were numerous factors that involved leadership lessons. One important lesson I took from this story is that every good leaders will faced with the temptation of peer pressure and it is then that you have to decide whether pleasing your peers is more important or being wise is more important. In this case Emmett felt that impressing these boys and showing them that he was a well liked person not only by his own people but even more important he was well liked by white people, where he was from. If Emmett would have exercised wisdom and humbleness he would not have allowed the local boys outside of the store to convince him to go and talk to Mrs. Bryant, especially after the warning his mother had given him before he arrived in Mississippi. Showing restraint and meekness may have spared young Till's life. Another lesson that caught my attention from this story would be, no matter who may be around and coerced you into doing what you have done or even participated with you; ultimately you are responsible for dealing with those consequences of your part in it and sometimes the consequences can potentially be fatal.
In Emmett Till's case the lessons were a little bit more dramatic than in most leadership scenarios. Emmett Till was raised very much like me. He was taught who he was but also warned on who he may have to act like he is. Meaning it's good to be yourself and be confident in who you are, but when put in a position where you may be putting your self in harm's way be humble enough to keep your mouth closed. Again much like me Emmett was unable to control himself in order to prove a point and as a result was killed. As a leader there will be a lot of people who will test you. Not necessarily to put you in harm's way but most often to see if you'll really do it. It is up to you to be able to decipher whether this cause is reason enough to risk not only yourself but also your cause.
The Emmett Till case is an exceptional situation because Emmett Till was not identified as being a leader until after his death. In class one of the four frames we discussed was the symbolic frame. The symbolic frame is known for providing direction and anchoring hope and faith. On December 1st, 1955 only months after Emmett Till's horrendous death the Civil Rights Movement began. Some people may have never made the connection but the fact that Rosa Parks decided to take a stand on that day in the same South that Emmett Till died is no coincidence. The symbolism behind Till's death no only sparked a revolutionary period for black people but also exposed a lot of the wrong that was being pushed under the rug in the south. The five fundamental practices of leadership can be identified in this book. Emmett Till definitely challenged the process by starting a conversation with a Caucasian woman in the south. The process in those days of course were black people did not speak until spoken to. Emmett inspired a vision when he influenced Rosa Parks to refuse giving up her seat on the bus coinciding with that he gave her the courage to act with fits under enabling other to act. By breaking the tradition or the code he modeled the way and let black people know that we are no different than anyone else and we should be able to act accordingly. Last but not least definitely my favorite is encouraging the heart which he is continuing to do to this day. Every time his story is told is another opportunity to encourage someone to not be scare to stand up for what they believe in.