FORBES | In times of uncertainty, we know leadership matters more than ever. I see this from leaders firsthand every day – leadership in improving health outcomes, in driving better policy, in rising to the moment to solve tough challenges – from conservation to economic mobility. Recently, I have been reflecting on the power and importance of great leadership in education, and marking the anniversary of a painful event in Nashville where leadership mattered.
This Saturday, September 10th, 2022 marks the 65th anniversary of the tragic bombing of the Hattie Cotton School, which occurred just after midnight following the very first day of mandated integration at six elementary schools in Nashville in 1957. This major cultural advance was spurred by the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education.
On that first day of school, Hattie Cotton had just one six-year-old black girl enrolled, Patricia Watson. My aunt Margaret Cate, who we lovingly called Aunt Bonnie, was the principal at Hattie Cotton and she had led the school since the day it opened seven years prior in 1950. Never married, her life was centered entirely around educating children, teaching with high values and high expectations, always gently and humbly — and later leading as principal in the style of servant leader. She was gentle but strong. Her convictions were ahead of the times.
From old letters, we know a close friend sensed an air of worry and concern when visiting with Aunt Bonnie the day before the opening of school because of planned, organized, community-wide protests. Little did she know that soon her beloved, tiny school would be making national headlines, and she would be called upon to unify and courageously lead the Hattie Cotton community after a vicious, violent attack.