I am not an historian. When I went to the deep South for the first time in 1963…I received my first bibliography on the black experience in this country. It came not from a university professor, but from a black SNCC worker.
I have made the personal discovery of the history of my people an ongoing part of my life being careful to understand that our history is not just in books, but in our people wherever they are—especially the elder of them.”
Basic Research for Professor Millard Clements
Geraldine L. Wilson January 1972
After leaving my job in Pittsburgh, I headed to my sister’s place in Harlem, which was only a 15 minute walk from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I spent most of Friday and Saturday doing research there, my sister even came in to help me (even though she complained most of the time), yet she was a huge help. I was only able to conquer 13 out of 19 boxes of information. Even within the 13 boxes I had to skip over information due to time. At the end, I had over 130 pages copied that I am still waiting for in the mail. I have to say this trip was worth it for what I found is beyond what I expected.
It was bittersweet prying through Geraldine’s life. From reading her fears of having breast cancer to the heartache of losing her mother Hilda, I received a glance into her private life which caused me to remove myself from my role as a researcher to a person who is more emotionally connected to Geraldine. Despite her fears and deep sadness, she was a strong, brave woman who I am proud to be researching.
Geraldine was a beautiful writer. She had written a few articles for magazines such as Essence and Freedomways, book reviews, and poetry. Her most beautiful writings however are those about her family—the history of her people. I am privilege to be researching someone who wrote freely about the lives of her grandparents. She provided answers to many questions I had when starting this research. The first reading I will share with you comes from a biography Geraldine wrote about her mother, Hilda, following her death in 1975.
Hilda C. Wilson was born in Jacksonville, Florida on April 8, 1910, the last child of Nancy Sawyer and Harry Florence Flowers. At three years of age, her sisters and brothers moved to a farm outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In a family raised by her father, she received from his and her ancestors a rich legacy that included a value system built on love of justice and moral right, a belief that children are central to the concern of the family, and a deep love and commitment to Afrikan peoples. She carried these things with her throughout her life nourished by the idea of Afrika that she received in stories that had been passed to her from her father.
She moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in her late teens. While participating in the church and social life there, in her early twenties, she met Herbert Wilson, son of Evaline and Maurice Wilson. They married and had three children: Geraldine Louise, Herbert, and Harry Harlan.
Her activities in Philadelphia, in addition to being a competent wife and mother included some of the following: worker, president of her block association, member of St. Augustine Church Episcopal Church, Sunday School teacher and superintendent, defense worker, garment worker, sponsor for African students, and the first member of the Wilson household to walk a picket line in the early sixties.
In 1963, because of her way with young people and her demonstrated love for Black people, she was asked to be in charge of the Philadelphia Office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She organized parents of civil rights workers, raised funds, organized and participated in supportive demonstrations in Philadelphia. In late 1965, she became a worker with parents in the Philadelphia Tutorial Project.
Although she attended SNCC staff meeting on the Gulf coast of Mississippi in November 1965; it was in 1966, she came “home” for the first time. She worked in the Mississippi Delta as a member of the Poor People’s Corporation for six months, training people in the use of the power sewing machine. She came back to Philadelphia vowing to move to Mississippi to live out her life there. She came to live in Mississippi permanently in December 1967, and continued her work with PPC.. In 1968, she began to work with Friends of the Children of Mississippi Head Start Program, working in Humphries, Wayne, Clark, and Green Counties. She continued working for “change” in Jackson and other Mississippi communities as a consultant in Black History and parent work. She served for a while as a member and as president of the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Jackson, as a board member of Operation Shoe String, and a member of the advisory board of Mississippi Institute of Early Childhood.
She will be remembered in her strength, her humor, her determination, her honesty, her worth, her supportiveness, and her sense of justice. She is survived by two sisters, Rachel and Gladys; by two brothers, John and Vincent; by her children, Gerry, Herb, and Harry; and her grandchild, Nandi; and nieces, nephews, and close friends who will miss her.
We, her family, are proud to leave her “home” with all of you. You have taken fine care of her for us these last eight years. You have our gratitude and our love. May her life be an example for us all.”
With this finding, I am able to finally piece together a more accurate timeline for the Flowers family. In 1913, they moved up North to Pennsylvania to a small farm. The mother was not in the picture for in 1915 she already had a son born in Florida to her second husband, Henry Sams. Still, I wonder what the relationship was like with her mother during her later years for her mother does relocate to Philadelphia. Questions also remain pertaining to the divorce and the events which resulted in it, yet I will probably never receive an answer to that question. This biography also provided some insight into how the Flowers children were raised—with a deep passion for Africa, their roots. Rachel, Hilda, and Geraldine all displayed a deep love for the continent with Geraldine even holding a minor degree from the University of Ghana in African history. The one quality that prevails within members of the Flowers family is their devotion to equality and justice. I just wish that this family’s story would be honored and remembered.
Hilda Flowers Wilson is a name that you would rarely come across when reading history books. Her accomplishments may seem small compared to those of Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, or even Shirley Chisholm, yet her work should be acknowledged. It has now become my personal goal for her family’s story to be known. I will not allow Harry Flowers, Vincent Allen Flowers, Gladys, Hilda, Geraldine, or Rachel to be forgotten. They will be remembered.
Until the next post.