How desegregation gave rise to leaders

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

For leadership role models, look no further than the students who, by ones and twos, led the way in integrating colleges and universities after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision 50 years ago this month.

Here are the lessons they imparted:
  • Faith in the mission. Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes pursued their college studies elsewhere while trying to enter the University of Georgia. They easily could have given up, but they didn’t. Business lesson: Believe in what you do.
  • Self-confidence. Throughout their ordeal, Hunter-Gault and Holmes conveyed that leading the push for integration was their role, their responsibility, their privilege, and that they were able to handle it. Business lesson: Know your stuff.
  • Faith in your team. Hunter-Gault recounts how scrupulously her legal team prepared its case. For months, they traveled every day from Atlanta to Athens, searching the university’s records and finding evidence that officials had lied about why Hunter-Gault and Holmes were not admitted. Business lesson: Don’t let the grinding detail work stop you.
  • A thought for others. Hunter-Gault lost her composure only twice: once when she and Holmes were suspended “for their own safety” during a riot, and later that night, when Holmes wanted to drive his own car home and Hunter-Gault feared for his life. Trying to be “persuasive,” she shook him frantically by the shoulders and screamed that he had to ride with her in the patrol car. Embarrassed, he gave in. Business lesson: Show that you care about your team.
  • Fearlessness. At various junctures, students burned crosses, hung Holmes in effigy, flew the Confederate flag at half-mast, and hurled epithets, bricks and bottles. After the riot, Hunter-Gault was asked if she would go back to campus. She said she would, “whatever it entails.” Business lesson: Just do it.

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