The Pointe

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Women's History Month #tbt - Celebrating a Longtime Middletown Educator

MidPointe Library’s second Women’s History Month #tbt vignette pays tribute to a longtime Middletown educator whose poignant reflections on life, including her own, were explored in her 1976 book of poetry, “Do You Know How It Feels?”

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To many Middletown residents, Jean Gear is remembered as “the first black woman to be named principal of a local racially mixed school.”*  She’s been described as “an avid reader, a lover of people” who received the 1972 Middletown Teachers’ Association Virginia Shaffer Memorial Award.**  She was a widow, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, church member and steadfast community volunteer.

In her 1976 book, “Do You Know How It Feels?,” Jean Gear became a chronicler, a questioner, a poet with powerful messages to black men and women. She encouraged the black child to have pride. She wrote  about life, love, friendship, hope, children and more. But her most emotive piece, arguably, is the poem that shares the same title as her book. It recalls her own life experiences as one who is “Black of heart” and “white of skin.”

As Mrs. Gear explained on the book’s inside cover : “...I have never understood why one’s skin color had to determine his/her philosophies. I am light... but I have felt the same persecutions and discriminations that Blacks of darker hues have experienced...It was many years before I realized that I was in a very peculiar position. I was not only misunderstood by Blacks but because of the way I looked, whites tended to view me as different from other Blacks…”

Middletown historian, the late George Crout, reviewed Mrs. Gear’s book in his “Middletown Diary” column in the  October 16, 1976, Middletown Journal. Crout described Mrs. Gear as “gifted” and her book as a “major contribution to a better appreciation of the meaning of being black in America…”

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Crout continued “... Jean Gear’s poetry goes beyond her theme poem and the book’s title. It examines many other basic human emotions, common to all races, such as love, ego, education, humor and friendship...Of a senior citizen she observes: ‘One day you will be in her place, you will feel what she feels...”

Reviewing Mrs. Gear’s book in his July 18, 1976, Middletown Journal “Footnotes” column, Douglas Bean of Middletown Public Library (now MidPointe) wrote that “... on a broader level, her poems revolve around the idea of individual pride and respect toward others, both the very young and the very old.”

Crout termed Mrs. Gear’s book a “best-seller” and reported that she had attracted long lines at an author’s autograph party at a local bookstore.

Jean Gear died at age 70 in 1992.

You can enjoy a copy of Jean Gear’s book, “Do You Know How It Feels?,” in the Ohio Room at MidPointe Library’s Middletown location.

* “Middletown Women - Profiles of women who made a difference in the community” (Published by the Middletown Branch of American Association of University Women. Available in the Ohio Room at MidPointe Library Middletown.

** “Teacher of the Year trading in her chalk” by David Driver, Middletown Journal, Oct. 8, 1972.
Past issues of the Middletown Journal are available on microfilm at MidPointe Library Middletown and at www.midpointelibrary.org.