Geraldine Wilson’s Commencement Speech at Tougaloo College, 1975 [Part I]

First and foremost, thank you for the 20,000 views on the blog! It may be a small milestone, but still a milestone. I will post an update about graduate life.



My favorite photo of Geraldine. Her head is wrapped and the photo showed her in action [probably in the midst of giving a WORD on the injustices of the world, someone said something ignorant, and she had to pause to collect her thoughts before going in…Bad historian I know]. 

One of the widely cited pieces I use in my research paper is Geraldine Wilson’s commencement address at Tougaloo College, a historically Black institution in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1975. The next set of blog post is Wilson’s powerful speech on her time in Mississippi, the future of Black education, and a call for Black teachers and leaders to serve the needs of the Black community. This speech can be found within the Geraldine Wilson Collection at the Schomburg Center.


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“Speaker 1: I’d like to say, too, that we have come this far by faith; however humbly I hope that we will keep moving forward for those reasons. I’m very excited, emotional, and I’m unbeaten right now. This is, indeed a special occasion and I’m most honored and privileged to introduce the speaker, Ms. Geraldine Wilson. I’ve known and have encountered Ms. Wilson professionally; working with her since 1967. She is a dedicated professional in the field of Early Childhood Education. That which we are honoring today are the events of time, accurate work, growth experience-things we can’t achieve in a few days time. First, let’s open with our TIECE in Early Childhood Education in Tougaloo College. Gerry made it, gave it the expertise she had to make it possible for us to see days like this. Ms. Wilson is one of the two co-planners who committed one whole year, 1969, researching and planning for this Institute. That is perhaps maybe some of the many professionals in the area of Early Childhood Education.

Ms. Wilson was born in the state of Pennsylvania. She lived there through her childhood. Since reaching young adulthood, Ms. Wilson has resided in New York. Ms. Wilson’s work experience ranges from being a pre-school teacher to designing training for and administering training to those who teach young children. She is currently employed as Project Director for the New York City Head Start Regional Training Office at New York University. She has served as consultant to many pre-school agencies. Ms. Wilson is truly a child advocate. She is also a community activist on issues that seem valid and affect the Black community. Ms. Wilson is presently

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completing her dissertation for a doctoral degree in Early Childhood Education and Teacher Training. Her dissertation is “The Creative and Protective Child-Rearing Practice and the Early Experiences of Young African-American Children in the Slave Community: 1619 through 1860”. Ms. Wilson’s former training and experience have afforded her a very broad background of education in general; and as we relate to Early Childhood Education for the young African descendants, especially. Ms. Wilson has developed this much and more, we should be able to ascertain by Ms. Wilson standing before you and sharing her thoughts and other information that she has pulled together.


To all of you; to TIECE faculty, to the graduates, to the staff, to friends and family, Welcome. I guess it is not secret by now that we’ll probably not get through the afternoon without some tears. I’m going to try. It’s going to be hard, ’cause I’m a big cryer. I would like to follow in the footsteps of the three young women who will receive their AA degree this afternoon, by giving some thanks of my own. Mississippi is a very special place to me. The experiences I’ve had here have had a very profound effect on me and my family. My mother moved here about eight years ago and adopted this state as her home.

I thought a great deal about what I wanted to share with you today and how I would go about doing that, because giving thanks can sometimes be difficult. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it as well as I would like, but I must try. It seemed to me that the one thing that will be possible for me today, that might not be possible for me again, is that I will have the chance to give public thanks to people like those of you who are her in this room; those of you who’ve had a great deal to do with my growth and development. I, of

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course, absolve all of you of the responsibility for my faults, errors and bad behavior. However, for those things that I did to bring credit to my family and to my community, most of that has to do with you.

I’m choosing deliberately, the words “growth and development” for the following reasons: One; some of you are completely today, one phase of your journey through the credentializing [sic] process in the field of Education. You will be holders of an Associate of Arts degree. What will be your continued plans for growth and development for yourselves and for your children–Black children? Secondly, some of us in the room are responsible in an institutional way as either staff or faculty for the training of students who will be teachers. What about your (and our) own continued growth and development? Often when we have training/teaching responsibilities, we remove ourselves from the process of growth and development…feeling that we’ve arrived and that there is no more we can learn. What about plans for our continued growth and development? Thirdly, some of us in the room are in various phases of completing other stages of the credentiallizing [sic] process. Does our journey through that process result in positive growth and development? or is the credentiallizing [sic] process for us one that distances us from concepts, customs, and people that we ought to love and serve. Fourthly, most of us in the room, presumably have, what in the field of Education is called, “a professional interest in children”. Are we committed to the positive growth and development of the children in our care or are we committed to their destruction? Lastly, all of us have been children. All of us have children who are close to us; either because we conceived them and bore them, or because we are part of our family, and/or because we teach them. Or, because we teach those who teach children. Are we interested in the creation, growth and development

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of supportive centers and environments for young children in our communities? Or, will be [sic] continue to reproduce the oppressive and destructive elements of the Public School and the larger society at earlier and earlier ages so that we find we will be labeling and suspending and excluding four year olds and three year olds as “disruptive” children from pre-school classrooms…”


Until part II.


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