“Our Children Are Our Children”: The Poetry of Geraldine Wilson

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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 Womena 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 [15].”

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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.

“Refugee Mother” 

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 
dark predators
     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

Christina

 

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