The Legacy of Geraldine Fowlkes

August 19, 2021

Geraldine Fowlkes was born August 10, 1931 to Andrew and Johnie Mae Franks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She departed this life peacefully in her sleep on February 8, 2021 at the age of 89.

Geraldine lived in Milwaukee her entire life and attended Pleasant View and Townsend Elementary Schools, Peckham Junior High and Rufus King High School. She was usually the only African American in all of her classes throughout her education. Her 1949 King yearbook, which she kept, had many comments from her classmates about how smart she was in her classes and on the debate team. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from State Teacher’s College (now UW-Milwaukee) in 1956 while being a wife (Freddie Fowlkes) with 3 little girls and then later received her master’s degree in administration from UW-Milwaukee, also.

Geraldine Fowlkes raised three daughters – Nancye Renee, Freda Mardette and Mary Catherine. She encouraged (expected!) them to earn bachelor’s degrees as well as master’s degrees, which they did. She was always there for each of them fearing God and placing their education as extremely important! There were no “ifs, ands or buts” about it! She taught them to be independent and to give to others. She made sure we always had what we needed, but not necessarily what they wanted. She took us to church with her 3 times a week and instilled the importance of faith in our lives. As the church pianist and organist, she had a perfect view of us sitting in the pews and sometimes giving us “the eye” to correct their behavior. When she would bring us along with her to church conventions that were held in other cities, she’d make sure to take us to the historical sites of that city between church services to broaden our knowledge and experiences. Though life had its trying times growing up in “the hood” on 4th & Clarke Streets, “the girls” are successful, a tribute to her legacy. She was married to Freddie Fowlkes over 20 years and to Benjamin New for a few years. During the “lean” summer months when teachers weren’t paid, she didn’t feel it was beneath her to accept government food to keep us fed. This taught us humility and appreciation for what others had to do to survive. She even sacrificed monetarily for her children to attend a private school, Campus Elementary School, a subsidiary of State Teachers College which is now UW-Milwaukee. She expected us to go to college to earn our bachelor’s degrees. She even encouraged the three of us, several years later, to pursue our master’s degrees together watching her grandchildren as her daughters pursued their master’s degrees together. One of most important legacies that Momma gave us was the since of independence and not expecting someone else to do for us what we could do for ourselves. She taught them to be self-sufficient and responsible. By trusting in God’s grace and mercy, she was able to raise us during sometimes very difficult times. She was a role model for what God can do if you trust in Him.

Geraldine was an employee in the Milwaukee Public School system from 1956 to 1991 teaching at Brown Street School as the first African American teacher and then at Maryland Avenue School pioneering the Open Classroom Concept. She later was assistant principal at several elementary schools and principal at a few MPS summer schools. She was not elevated to become principal because she would have had to leave her newly built home in Mequon and move back into the city. She was very proud of her home living there for over 44 years. Sis. Fowlkes was a faithful and active member of Mt. Calvary Holy Church & CIWC for 83 years from 1937 when she was six years old until her death. As a member of the church she was the church pianist/organist, founder of the Dolores Ann Cooper & Mary C. Newton Scholarship, Mt. Calvary National Archives Committee, Wisconsin-Illinois- Ohio-Michigan District Co-Financial Secretary (following her mother’s footsteps), Mt. Calvary Women’s Scholarship Comm. chairperson, Mt. Calvary Women’s Outreach ministry Comm., Hunger Task Force, Pastor’s Anniversary Comm., M.C.’s Strategic Planning Comm., former secretary of Holy Redeemer Christian Academy, and MPS’ panel for appointing principals.

Geraldine received numerous awards and recognitions: 100 Women of Honor Award from Holy Redeemer Institutional COGIC; Mt. Calvary Holy Church of America “Living Legacy” Award for Faithful Support & Loyal Commitment; Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Gwen Moore for Historic African American Teacher of MPS; Pioneering African Americas Honorees; 2005 Living Legend Award from MCHCA; and Life Time of Service Award (1937-2017) from MCHCA; Social Justice Award from the Darryl L. Hines Academy for which she was a board member are just a few of the many awards and recognitions she earned and kept in frames.

Mrs. Fowlkes was also a member of several organizations: Retired Administrators and Supervision Council, Delta Phi Kappa, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Chicago’s DuSable Museum; Milwaukee Black Holocaust Museum; Ozaukee County NAACP and the Phenomenal Women Investment Club.

She loved traveling all over the world (China twice, Europe 7 times, the Holyland twice, Alaska, Hawaii and other states in the US) and had a few hobbies including knitting, rug-making, crossword puzzles, the theatre and eating out at social occasions especially with the Hopkins Street Group (retired teachers & administrators). She also sent out birthday cards to over 100 people each year; cards to her grandchildren were very special because they included money according to their age. They’re going to miss that!

Geraldine is survived by her three daughters Nancye (Victor) Brazil of Atlanta, GA, Freda (Terry) Bell and Mary Fowlkes both of Milwaukee; brother John Melvin Franks of Indianapolis, IN; five grandsons, Terry (“Andy”) Bell, Frederick (“Benjy”) Bell of Oswego, IL, Jason Brazil and Patrick Bell both of Milwaukee and Jonathan Brazil of Atlanta, GA, 7 great-grandchildren, Camayan, Benjamin, Aameera, Bryce, Avery, Max, Landon and a host of nieces, nephews, “special” inlaws, relatives and friends. Geraldine was preceded in death by her dear parents, Andrew Franks and Johnie Mae Franks Golden, and by her beloved sister, Constance “Connie” Franks.

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