The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture holds the largest archival holding of information regarding the Flowers family, particularly letters between Rachel and her niece, Geraldine, and documents and artifacts Geraldine collected throughout her lifetime. This includes her academic writings, personal collection of newspapers, personal writing, and even her poetry collection. The next few posts will be unique in the sense that they will include small biographies about the featured individual and the topic I choose to dive into. For instance, this post on Geraldine will feature a small biography for new readers and her poetry, the topic I am focusing on today.
Image Source: Temple University, The Templar 1955, page 30
Geraldine Wilson during her senior year of college.
Geraldine Louise Wilson, known to family and friends as Gerry, was the first child born to Herbert Wilson of Quaker City, Pennsylvania and Hilda (Flowers) Wilson of Jacksonville, Florida. Raised in the City of Brotherly Love, Geraldine graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls and sought a higher education at Temple University where she majored in early childhood and elementary education. At Temple, she was heavily involved in student organizations gaining recognition as a Temple Super Senior, which is where the above photo was found in her yearbook. Although Geraldine graduated in 1955, she continued to take graduate courses at the university while teaching in the local public school system and later the United Neighborhood Association. During this time, she also grew interest in the rising black protests and movements rising across the nation. In 1964, she took a step of courage, joining thousands of white and black students traveling South to Mississippi for Freedom Summer.
During this time, she worked in voter’s registration, yet she invested much of her time in the education of children in the rural South. Returning North, Geraldine went on to complete her Master’s in Group Dynamics and Human Relations working towards her Ph.D. until her death at New York University. During this time she was an instructor of early childhood education at Teacher’s College and Columbia University while simultaneously serving as Director of Regional Training at Head Start Programs in New York City. Her work extended to Mississippi, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In 1979, she was hired as a full-time consultant with her of list of clients including national children’s organizations, corporations, universities, and school systems. She rose to become a widely respected, published, and prominent speaker.
Life as a Poet
[Draft] High School Photograph
I gaze out quietly
hair straightened for sitting swept up lovely
chin raised by photographer’s pomp
softness anticipating circumstance
above the single strand standard high school
pearls for young ladies shoulders lifted
youth draped soft velvet falling
between young breasts no wisdom yet
eyes without glasses this one time hopeful
an almost smile for proud family.
I look back me
two generations later maybe three
hair still swept natural silver
rippling at temples/African gold piercing ears
toughness walks on circumstance I am a
coral brass turquoise necklace woman
hiding single strand of trouble,
lifted under dead mother’s eye, shoulders
draped with wool batik long linen of maturity covers
burgeoning breast, scarred with steel and sadness
eyeglasses divided in two for time older eyes
want to see strength hidden in the young heart.
(c) Gerry Wilson, 1982
With a second trip to the archives over Thanksgiving break, I was able to dive deeper into Geraldine’s’ vast archive collection. Tucked away in folders were countless poems, most were still being edited.
Image taken at the Schomburg Center from the Geraldine Wilson Papers Collection
According to her obituary, Geraldine was a recognized poet. Her work was featured in Essence, Ebony, and other publications. Unfortunately, I was unable to find her published work; however, I was able to find evidence of her publications and recognition as a poet.
I will continue to search for her published work and reach out to Essence in regards to their archives. The second poem I have collected from the archives by Geraldine is untitled, yet this piece as well as the above piece both show the pain of a daughter whose mother has passed away. There lies beauty in art, there lies pain in art.
Dear mother: You left me without asking
So I locked you out not of my nights
for night is good to me, I sleep–mostly.
It is out of my soul that I locked you.
Out of the soul you spun, carefully winding
independence from embroidery samplers, knitting
cardigans, scrubbing marble mosaic vestibule
and wooden porch turning hospital corners
sheets taut/ flipping pennies and ironing no catfaces into
starched post-offices shirts. You spun me
endurance running trolley rails of loss
It was only late at night that you slept
so it is my days that are hard like homemade
yeast bread too stale for cinnamon topped
bread pudding / Hard memories of days days that echo with your
father’s proverbs that now seem oakbeams
in iron buildings. Recently, I slid the
lengthy bolt back.
(c) Geraldine Wilson, 1983.
Another poem taken from the archive plays a key role in locating a living descendant of the Flowers family. It is entitled, “Ode to Nandi”. Nandi is Geraldine’s niece born in between the 1960s and 1970s. Hopefully, Nandi will remember her family’s poet who wrote a moving piece for her beloved niece.
Until the next post,
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