Geraldine L. Wilson and Black Consciousness Workshops for Mississippi’s Head Start Teachers

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Geraldine Wilson, Photos & Prints Division at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL

Geraldine Wilson arrived to Mississippi during the concluding weeks of Freedom Summer, a summer-long collective call for action to civil rights in the state. There are many questions surrounding her late arrival and her activism during that summer. Wilson work with Freedom Summer  comprises one chapter of my dissertation as well as a growing digital project on data visualizations regarding Freedom Summer volunteers. 

The bulk of my dissertation focuses on Wilson’s lifelong commitment to Mississippi’s Head Start centers and organizations, the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) and Friends of the Children of Mississippi (FCM). For one chapter, I would like to take readers into one of Wilson’s Black Consciousness Workshops that she led throughout the years. Black feminist and author Alice Walker also volunteered with FCM as a Black history consultant, although her time with the organization was brief (See Walker, Alice. “‘But Yet and Still the Cotton Gin Kept on Working…'” The Black Scholar 14, no. 5 (1983): 13-17).* Walker wrote: 

“Last summer I was offered a job as consultant in Black History for Friends of the Children of Mississippi. This is Headstart program that interested me because for three years it existed without government help or intervention. Its director was a young man from SNCC…I was to devote two week-long sessions to teaching these teachers, who turned out to be 90 ladies from various parts of the state. Some had been school teachers in Mississippi public schools, most had been maids, many had been field workers. Almost all of them had children of their own, though often these were grown-up and away from home.The average educational level was perhaps 5th grade, though all the ladies were intelligent, industrious, anxious to learn, and deeply concerned about the welfare of the children they were teaching. How did I know this? Because many them, indeed most, had worked for from one to eighteen months at the centers for less than $10.00 a week. Many months they worked for nothing (15).”

Per Wilson’s resume, she served as a Black history consultant for both CDGM and FCM in the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. From what I found in her collection at the Schomburg, only one set of notes, data, and participant remain regarding the workshop. Utilizing these documents from a FCM Black Consciousness Workshop between December 1st-3rd, 1968. This includes weekly reports from the following participants: 

  • Matylin Loper
  • Barden Johnson
  • John A. Wallace
  • William Leverette
  • Carolyn Lafayette

There was also a consultant manual from Geraldine Wilson detailing each day’s dialogue as well as her conclusions from the Black Consciousness Workshops. It began, 

“You requested that we discuss Black History at our workshop. You requested that I prepare a report for you. This manual is yours. Your words and the thoughts are a part of it. I hope it is helpful and that you can use it.” 

The next few post will be transcriptions of these documents as well as research questions. 

Until the next post!

Christina

* If you need access to this article, please let me know. 

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