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Ahead of Her Time in Yesteryear

Geraldyne Pierce Zimmerman Comes of Age in a Southern African American Family

Kibibi Voloria Mack-Shelton; With a Foreword by Hayward Farrar Jr.

Publication Year: 2010

Born into a relatively privileged family, Geraldyne Pierce Zimmerman earned a reputation as a maverick in her life-long home of Orangeburg, South Carolina, a semi-rural community where race and class were very much governed by the Jim Crow laws. Educated at Nashville’s Fisk University, Zimmerman returned to Orangeburg to teach school, serve her community, and champion equal rights for African Americans and women. She was a woman far ahead of her time. Kibibi V. Mack-Shelton offers a vivid portrayal of the kind of black family seldom recognized for its role in the development of the African American community after the Civil War. At a time when “separate-but-equal” usually meant suffering and injustice for the black community, South Carolina families such as the Tatnalls, Pierces, and Zimmermans achieved a level of financial and social success rivaling that of many white families. Drawing heavily on the oral accounts of Geraldyne Pierce Zimmerman, Mack-Shelton draws the reader into the lives of the African American elite of the early twentieth century. Her captivating narrative style brings to life many complicated topics: how skin color affected interracial interactions and class distinctions within the black community itself, the role of education for women and for African Americans in general, and the ways in which cultural ideas about family and community are simultaneously preserved and transformed over the span of generations. Refreshing and engaging, Ahead of Her Time in Yesteryear is an important contribution to African American and women’s studies, as well as a fascinating biography for any reader interested in a new perspective on small town black culture in the Jim Crow South.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Front matter

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pp. xi-xiv

It has been said that the past is a foreign country. If that is true, then Kibibi V. Mack-Shelton’s Ahead of Her Time in Yesteryear: Geraldyne Pierce Zimmerman Comes of Age in a Southern African American Family gives a grand tour of a world utterly foreign to our present-day sensibilities. That world is of the African American middle and upper classes in the first half of the twentieth cen-...

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pp. xv-xvi

At the professional level, I want to first thank the University of Richmond’s Tyler and Alice Haynes Endowment Fund for supporting this project. It made it possible for me to travel to my research sites and transcribe the many hours of oral history tapes recorded during the research phase. Second, after using various transcription companies, I want to thank the “world’s best tape ...

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pp. xvii-xx

The inspiration for this book beamed from writing my first book, Parlor Ladies and Ebony Drudges (University of Tennessee Press, 1999), which left me with an itching curiosity to learn more about one of the women discussed in the book, Geraldyne Pierce Zimmerman. Zimmerman, a feisty African American nonagenarian, is one of South Carolina’s most respected Black female icons ...

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pp. xxi-xxxii

The era in which the Pierces, Tatnalls, and Zimmermans emerged between the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, is quite different from the modern era of the mid-twentieth to the early twenty-first century. In this prologue I provide a brief overview of the early history and times of Black South Carolina, Black Orangeburg, and the Black family in Orangeburg. In doing so, I hope to ...

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Chapter 1. Ancestors: The Pierces and Tatnalls, 1860s–1910

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pp. 1-12

Franklin Pierce was born on July 18, 1845, in the small town of Cassatt, South Carolina, the free biracial son of a slave woman and her White plantation owner. At some point, he inherited about three to four hundred acres of farm-land from his White father and became a successful farmer in Cassatt. In 1865 Pierce married Charlotte Davis, a Cherokee Indian also born in Cassatt in ...

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Chapter 2. Jello: The Girl, 1910–1929

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pp. 13-36

Hazel Tatnall Pierce was filled with excitement and anticipation as she neared the delivery of her first baby. In fact, although she did not know it at the time, Hazel was to be her mother’s only child to bear grandchildren for her. But just like her mother, Hazel experienced the death of an infant. In 1910, during the home birth, Hazel and James’s first child died when the neck was broken in ...

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Chapter 3. Gerry: The Young Adult, 1929–1933

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pp. 37-76

Since Fisk accepted only five hundred students annually, they were very selective of who was permitted to enroll. On the application, the parents’ section was filled with delicate questions such as “How many rooms are in your home? Do you own your home? Do you have electricity? How many bathrooms? Do you own an automobile?” and so forth. The reason for these questions was ...

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Chapter 4. Gerry: The Mother, 1933–1960s

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pp. 77-112

By Gerry’s senior year in 1932, the majority of the female students at Fisk were making plans to teach school after graduation. As for Gerry, the mathematics major with absolutely no interest in teaching, she decided to pursue a career as an engineer. She knew that this was a male-dominated field strictly reserved for men, but she was passionate and highly motivated to pursue her dream. ...

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pp. 113-114

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” These lines from John Donne’s poem are certainly apropos in understanding Geraldyne Pierce Zimmerman’s metamorphosis from girlhood to womanhood. Simply put, she is the product of early-twentieth-century, traditional, southern child rearing. Young Jello was instilled with ...

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Epilogue. Mrs. Z: Lady Maverick, 1960s–2010

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pp. 115-120

From the mid-1960s and onward, after Malone and Rose Hayzel went to college, graduated, found jobs, and married, Zin and Gerry Zimmerman enjoyed their “empty nest.” These busy years were filled with Mrs. Geraldyne Zimmerman’s activities, which, ironically, had increased after the children left. She remained active in her As You Like It women’s bridge club and her ...

Appendix. Population Statistics: South Carolina and Orangeburg

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pp. 121-122

Tatnall-Pierce-Zimmerman Family Tree

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pp. 123-124


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pp. 125-152


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pp. 153-164


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pp. 165-168

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337367
E-ISBN-10: 1572337362
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337206
Print-ISBN-10: 1572337206

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 50 halftones
Publication Year: 2010