I enjoy doing research, at times a bit too much, but I truly am a researcher. This past Thanksgiving, I spent time at the Museum of American Indians in New York City, Broadway shows (Pippin and Motown…where I met Phylicia Rashad and Bobbi Jones performed on stage!), and I also spent two days at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The next few posts will pertain to what I found in the Geraldine Wilson Papers Collection in the archives. I have researched in this collection about one year ago, but I was never able to go through all of the boxes. The slave history of Harry Flowers will be laid to rest for the remainder of this month, I have to renew my Ancestry subscription which I can fully utilize once I am out of school next semester.
There are 19 boxes within Geraldine’s collection. For my new followers, Geraldine is the niece of Rachel Flowers, the first African American student to attend my alma mater. She was an extraordinary leader and scholar in the education of black children, a poet, author, and activist. She was born in 1931 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she attended Temple University from 1951-1955. After working in the local public school system, Geraldine joined the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project working with the children of sharecroppers and mobilizing Southern black voters. Following her years within this project, she enrolled at New York University earning a Master’s in Group Dynamics and Human Relations. She worked toward her Ph.D. while simultaneously serving as the Director of Regional Training for Head Start in the Northeast until her death in 1986. Despite her work in psychology and the education of children, Gerry, as many of her family and friends called her, had a heart for black history. Within her collection, specifically in boxes 12-19, is her personal history collection. Newspapers, memorabilia, and documents from the early 20th Century, Civil Rights Movement, and post-1960s movements fill these large boxes. There were even copies of newspapers dating back to the late 1800s. Gerry had a deep heart for her people and their history writing history books and collections for black communities in the South and reassuring that this history is taught to black children in classrooms across the United States. When asked of her opinion on the definition of black history, she gave the following response:
Some staff wanted to know what Black history really is. That is a difficult question to answer. It is also a question that requires a personal answer. Below is my answer. It is my personal opinion. I offer it to you. It can and possibly should be challenged. It is not the same answer I would have shared with you three years ago. It may not be the same answer I will give three years from now…
History is fact and opinion. The history of opinion can bind and enslave people. The history of fact can liberate people . History is not just what happened to them. History is also the effect on people of what happened. Knowing the history of Black people will help us answer those important questions: Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? How do we get there?
It is not enough to know who the famous Black people are, whom we honor and respect. The existence of poor Black people is also a part of history. They have built this country, they have made money for others in this country. They remain poor for historical reasons we need to understand. The more need more than honor and respect. They need jobs, housing, and medical care. How they get these basic will be history. Knowing Black history means:
That we understand why our history was distorted and ignored.
That we learn who distorted our history and why.
That we discover who profited from distorting history and how they profited
That we know how long and how hard Black people have struggled against bondage.
That we know as surely as we know our name that the children of Africa are as old as man himself.
One of the newspaper articles I found held the headline, “Slave Steals Confederate Gunboat!”. The Flowers family does have ties to the Civil War. Gerry’s grandfather, Harry Flowers, was a sergeant within the 21st United States Colored Infantry (USCI) from 1864 until 1866.
Now, I made the mistake of not recording the newspaper’s title, historian mistake number 5, 672; however, it is obviously from a Northern newspaper for their is a quote from Frederick Douglass at the top. Once I read this title, it was a story I had to research.
Until the next post.