Will edit this post in the morning.
This past week has been hectic. As you may or may not have known, I have moved to Boston and start work in the morning (graduate school does not start until September). My remaining time at home was spent packing and hanging out with my family. This does not mean I halted my research for an entire week. I continued to conduct my usual research, yet I did not have the time to update my blog. That is until now. The next few blog posts will take on a different spin as I share a bit of my own family’s history. My final weekend home, I visited my Nana who shared family stories, pictures, obituaries, and yes, even family secrets. Great memories were made that day and even greater stories were shared. I am excited to share my family with you all.
Today’s post will involve Dr. Howard Zinn and Ms. Geraldine Wilson, niece of Rachel Flowers. As you might recall, Geraldine joined the Mississippi Freedom Project, or Freedom Summer, in 1964. Along with thousands of whites and blacks, she travelled to the Mississippi Delta working with grassroots organizations, children programs, and voter registration groups. Although much of her time with this project remains undocumented, I happened to stumble across some documents detailing her work within the greater Civil Rights Movement.
Photo taken from howardzinn.org
Honestly, I knew very little about Dr. Zinn. I had the opportunity to read portions of his works in both high school and college; however, I was not aware of his direct involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lucky for me, the Wisconsin Historical Society has digitized the Howard Zinn Papers Collection which features his work and leadership in Freedom Summer.
In a memo concerning a SNCC staff retreat from November 11th to the 21st, the organization worked with students enrolled in work-study programs at Tougaloo College and Miles College. The goal of this training was to evaluate and present the economic, social, and politic issues of blacks within the state of Mississippi. Assisting in these conversations and discussion groups was little Miss. Geraldine “Gerry” Wilson. I beamed with joy upon reading her name as if I were a proud mother. Assisting her were Jesse Harris, Casey Hayden, Dave Dennis, Dick Jewett, and many others. Ella Baker, Howard Zinn, Staughton Lynd, Myles Horton, Bob Coles, Charles Hamilton, and Robert Zangrando also assisted with this program serving as resources at the institute. Talk about being among great leaders.
Read more here
Within the same collection (entitled Freedom Summer), there is a section containing documents from the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE. Minutes from another staff meeting in Jackson, Mississippi on November 23, 1964 concerned the recent closing of the Jackson office. This was due to the inability for workers to come to a decision, the local people problem (just read Coming to Age in Mississippi, confusion, and unresolved issues in the workplace.
The problems go deeper than kids’ desire to be part of the Movement in Jackson; there are more basic things than that involved; anyways, some kids have been given the chance to be involved.
It is an amazing feeling, seeing a person’s name who you have researched for years working for a greater cause and catch a glimpse of her life even if it is in two documents. From these two alone, you see a leader, compassion, and a person who was not afraid to speak.
I continued to find more and more about Gerry. An article she wrote, “On Twain and Minstresley”, was referenced in Dr. Shelley Fiskin’s book entitled Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices. This article was published in Interracial Books for Children (1984). Here, she critiques Twain for his exploitative and degrading stereotypes. Sadly the author only quoted a small snippet of Gerry’s work. I will search endlessly for this full article. Another article by Geraldine was referenced in Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds by Dawn B. Sova. This article was co-authored by Beryle Banfield and titled “The Black Experience through White Eyes—The Same Old Story Again”. It was published in The Black American in Books for Children: Readings in Racism. Again, I find it difficulty to locate a full article written by Geraldine. I only have a few of her writings including poetry in my collection.
Well, until the next post!