Family proud to span 'two worlds'
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on January 18, 2009 2:00 AM
Three generations of the Gerald family stand in their Goldsboro home on Gerald Street. From left, they are: daughter Virginia Atkinson, granddaughter Teresa Atkinson-Jones, matriarch Virginia Gerald, granddaughter Rachelle Williams, patriarch Robert Gerald, daughter Annette Jamerson, grandson Lawrence Gerald Jr. and son Lawrence Gerald. Not pictured is son Robert Gerald Jr. Five generations of the family will gather Tuesday to celebrate the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama -- an occasion that Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gerald, both in their 90s, feel blessed to see.
Robert and Virginia Gerald's living room walls tell the story of their 75 years of marriage, the dozens of framed photographs bright with the cap-and-gown smiles of children long grown and the promise of descendants yet to come.
Five generations of their family will gather Tuesday in the Geralds' Goldsboro home to mark a milestone in America's story, and to usher in a future that Gerald, 93, and Mrs. Gerald, 91, never thought they'd live to see -- the first African-American President of the United States.
"I've already seen so much, it seems like I'm living in another world than I started off in," said Gerald, born in Princeton in 1915. "When I came along, it looked impossible to me, but I've been blessed to see it.
"I guess I kinda feel like Noah felt, when he was able to see two worlds."
The Geralds' daughter Annette Jamerson understands what her father means in a way that her own grandchildren may not. She, too remembers a time when an African-American president seemed like an impossible dream.
"I am elated," Ms. Jamerson said. "I never thought I would see this, either. I came along before the Civil Rights movement."
The presidential inauguration will be all the more memorable and meaningful for the family because of its almost surreal timing, coming the day after the holiday for Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
For Ms. Jamerson, it's more than just coincidence.
"It just seems so fitting, it really does, like it was meant to be," she said.
The family agreed, though, that the next four years will be challenging for the incoming administration.
"It's a lot of things that he's inheriting that are going to be really complicated to take care of," Gerald said.
But after raising 11 children and helping to raise 40 grandchildren, as well as many more great- and great-great-grandchildren ("We haven't counted lately," Ms. Jamerson said), Gerald knows a thing or two about giving advice to young people.
What advice would he give to President-elect Barak Obama, who is set to become the fifth-youngest president in American history?
"The first thing I'd say to him, with the situation the way it is, is pray for spiritual guidance," Gerald said. "As to the situation of the economy, there are going to be some trials and tribulations, but I feel that he will be able to conquer them."
The Geralds both voted in the election, helping Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden win the popular vote. The Democratic candidates also clinched the electoral college vote.
"That was very important to know, that there wasn't any scheming, he won it fair and without question," Gerald said.
And for the family, said granddaughter Rachelle Williams, Obama's success in November bridged the years and even the occasional differing political viewpoint between them. One of the Geralds' eight sons even got to shake his hand during a campaign stop in Raleigh.
"Even though we may not agree on all our views, it's a wonderful thing," Mrs. Williams said.
Though Obama's African-born father and international upbringing concerned some voters, for Ms. Jamerson, the president-elect's background is symbolic of unity.
"It's like two nations being brought together," she said. "It will be a great day in history for all people. Not just for African-Americans, but for all people."
Ms. Jamerson's brother Robert Gerald Jr. felt the same way.
"It's an exciting moment for the whole U.S., for the whole world," he said.
Especially, they added, for the two daughters who will join the two million or more visitors expected in Washington D.C. for the event.
For those staying home, the family is working on multiple scrapbooks to commemorate the occasion, and to make sure the next generation -- including the Geralds' ten-month-old great-great-grandson, the youngest of their large family -- will be able to look back on the inauguration and someday tell their own children about it.
Because on Tuesday, when Obama takes the oath of office, Mrs. Williams said she will be thinking of the historical significance of the moment.
"Our ancestors who were brought over here, and now an African-American is president," she said.
It's an event that they've waited nearly a century to see.
"It only takes faith and hope to be able to accomplish any good that you set out for, as long as you stay positive and always rely solely on Jesus Christ," Gerald said. "There's nothing impossible with the Lord."
"It had to be the Lord," said Mrs. Gerald. "I thank the Lord for giving all of us the chance to see it."
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