Geraldine Wilson, date unknown.
Research Paper Title: “What Shall We Teach Our Children Who Are Black?: Geraldine Wilson, Freedom Schools, and Project Head Start in Mississippi, 1964-1968 or “Our Children Are Our Children”: Geraldine Wilson, Freedom Schools, and Early Black Childhood Education in Mississippi, 1964-1968
Although my paper explores the educational activism of Wilson through Freedom Schools, a component of 1964 Freedom Summer, and Project Head Start, I always enjoy researching Wilson beyond the classroom. Teaching served as one of Wilson’s primary interests, yet she was also a Black feminist, writer, poet, and consultant for Sesame Street. While researching for this paper, I stumbled across her poetry in Amiri Baraka’s Confirmation: Anthology of African American Women, a collection of fiction, essays, poems, and plays pertaining to the live of Black women in America. This book featured prominent writers Maya Angelou, Toni Cade Bambara, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, and Alice Walker. Baraka wrote that the purpose of this anthology was to “draw attention to the existence and excellence of Black women writers…the collection covers the considerable ground between Margaret Walker and the youngest writers published here for the first time .”
Published only five year before Wilson’s death, both of her poems featured in the book where written in 1982. The biography submitted stated:
Geraldine L. Wilson was born, raised, and went to school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she taught school and was director of a settlement house. After working in the Movement in Mississippi, she moved to New York City, where she is a child development, early childhood specialist. She has written reviews of children’s books and critical essays, as well as articles on educational issues, Black children and families, and stories for children.
“My muse prescribed the writing of poetry during an illness and while I was experiencing a personal loss. The writing of poetry still comes to a surprise to me, even after two years. It demands of me much needed discipline. It gives back to me the gift of looking at the world through the eyes of a poet.”
The illness, which she later succumbed to, was breast cancer. She died at the age of 57.
Baraka featured two of Wilson’s poems, “Refugee Mother” and “Our Children Are Our Children”. While residing in New York City, Wilson befriended well-known Black artists including Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, and Toni Cade Bambara. I am unsure of the extend of Wilson’s and Baraka’s relationship, but he had to come across Wilson and her work at some point. They both resided in New York City and where members of Black writers/artists groups.
Sands swirls a halo
round the dark mother Africa
burying her child
cries stones in a land
where there is no water
vomits grief there is no food
famine spreads wings wide
buzzard touching feet to
tiny bones/sandy waste squawking
in triumph over ancient life
Geraldine Wilson, 1982
“Our Children Are Our Children”
They are ours
fighting mothers with
electric red winds of blue violence
spreading out fans of
escaping school abuse
fleeing family misuse dodging
Running fast concrete trails
noise of transistorized porno
fill their veins stifles their hearts
They are ours
snatching weekly wages fathers shout
Me, baby! your neighbor!
they trap grandmothers/screams
She fed him greens he raped her
maimed friends knifed her
rent for the room she gave him
They face white/criminal justice
cuffed in legal bracelets
spilling blood instead of tears
Watching All their Children and Dallas’ Cowboys
Our children became strangers on
Eyewitness News Tune In.
Geraldine Wilson, 1982