Last week, a colleague and I were discussing general research practices and how information is interpreted. She said:
“If you (people in general) are only concerned with proving your theories and are not open to a different version, you may be published but you will still be wrong.”
This comment has stuck with me for several days.
Emmett’s life wasn’t a theory, but in reading about him and how he lived, I’ve come up with some theories that explain why he did the things he did.
I don’t like assumptions; so, to confirm my theories, I turn to a few other sources: The contemporary media of the day, which (from what I can determine at this point) got about half of his story right; and, his family and friends, those who knew him best. As is often the case in research, I’ve had to change my understanding of things as new details about Emmett’s story come to light. One in particular has to do with Emmett’s big brother, Cephas Love Wilson.
I admit that my first impression of Cephas was something like this:
Why the oily bohunk image? Well, one of the first things I had learned about Cephas at the start of this research last year was that he was an important lawyer whose wife wanted to divorce him because of his well known extramarital activities. The second thing I learned was that Cephas tried (in some underhanded way) to manipulate the state Democratic party to put him into the governor’s mansion; hence, my initial impression that Cephas was a cad.
I have come to realize how unfair it is to put another human being up on some kind of moral pedestal. I didn’t walk in Cephas’ shoes. I don’t know what it was like to live his life. He probably had God-awful challenges I know nothing about (and may never discover).
Cephas was just a man, living in his time period, doing what he thought best for himself, his career, his family, his brother. (I don’t think he was emotionally invested in his marriage, but then, he might have married his wife because it was politically advantageous. Many marriages back in that time were made for just that reason.)
Cephas had his flaws, but one thing I can say in his defense (fact, not theory) was that he cared very much for his siblings, and it wasn’t simply idle talk:
- When his brother Meade was suddenly taken ill with TB in 1914 in North Carolina, his sister-in-law Carrie, who had young children and was not with Meade, called Cephas because she didn’t know what to do. Cephas dropped everything, and went to Meade, staying at his bedside until Carrie could reach him before Meade died.
- When Cephas’ father remarried and basically started a new family in Chipley, Cephas took in his five younger siblings to live with him in Marianna. Cephas and his wife Lula had not been married very long, and had small children of their own, so this was no small feat. There were other older Wilson siblings who might have helped, but Cephas was the one who stepped up to the plate and took his brothers and sisters in.
- When Emmett graduated from law school, Cephas brought him into his firm as a full partner. Cephas didn’t have to offer Emmett a partnership right out of college; a lot of law school grads had to work their way up to partner. Cephas did it because he saw Emmett’s potential — probably a win-win move for both of them — and Cephas was willing to take a chance on his brother.
These are the facts, not theories that provide a different view of Cephas Love Wilson that I didn’t expect. Interesting, isn’t it, that Cephas could be part jackass, part good guy when he needed to be, just like the rest of us.
It is all about being open to a different version of your research findings, even if the information is different than what you expect to find.