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?”
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…”