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Items from Marie Wilkinson’s treasured collection to be displayed at Santori Public Library

Editor’s note: The quotes used in this article were taken from “Gentle Spirit: Memoirs by Marie Wilkinson and Reflections from Those She Touched,” compiled by Kathy Snow.

One of the most-asked questions at the Richard and Gina Santori Library has to do with the bronze sculpture of the petite lady sitting on a stainless steel bench outside the west entrance.

And that question is: “Why is she holding a whip?”

And the answer is that the whip – a bull whip – was handed down to her by her father-in-law, on whom it was used. He took it with him when he escaped slavery.

Sheila on the bench

From Marie’s memoirs:

“Charlie’s father came from the South and was the son of slaves. He would tell us about the whipping the slaves would get with a long woven leather bull whip. In fact, I have the whip my father-in-law brought with him when he escaped from slavery. He had scars on his back from when he was whipped because he spoke up to an abusive master saying, “Don’t hit my mother.

“But to him, this whip was a symbol of forgiveness. My father-in-law went through all of that and he did not hate. He did not hate anyone. He would say, ‘They just didn’t know any better.’”

Marie Wilkinson took the whip with her when she visited schoolchildren in Aurora. So to have her holding a likeness of it in her lap is fitting.

Sheila Scott-Wilkinson, Marie’s daughter, has had the whip in her possession since her mother’s passing at the age of 101 on Aug. 12, 2010.

I was able to touch that whip the other day, and it was an emotional moment for me.

Sheila Scott-Wilkinson came to Aurora last week and I was honored to meet her and see many of her mother’s prestigious awards: plaques and medals and pins and certificates. But several things really stood out to me as my colleague Bonnie Sebby and I helped Sheila sort through her family’s personal effects: her brother’s duffel bag and uniform from his service in the Korean War; her mother’s tennis racquet; her mother’s Lumen Christi Award (the Catholic Church’s highest honor for missionary work); the maquette that sculptor Preston Jackson created before sculpting the life-size sculpture out of bronze; and an old, old trumpet once played by an uncle. It’s falling apart, but what I wouldn’t give to have just a glimpse of that man playing this well-used instrument.

And then there are the hats. Mrs. Wilkinson loved hats, I’m told, and the ones that the family stored away were colorful and bold, soft and beautiful. Her personality really showed through her hats.

Some of the things that I saw last week – items that had been in storage here since Marie Wilkinson died – are coming out of storage and will be on display at the Santori Library for all to see.

Details will be forthcoming. But I wanted this city to know that some of the Matriarch of Aurora’s most personal things are being shared with the community by her daughter. It’s almost like she is coming home again to remind us all of her gentle spirit:

“When anyone asks, ‘How did you do all this?’ I say, ‘I didn’t. God did it in me.’ When they ask, ‘Why do you say that all the time?’ I tell them, ‘Because it was true, I am telling you the truth. God took me because he knew I wasn’t going to be frightened. He knew I knew how to love. He knew I never hated and He knew I was going to be compassionate. He knew if somebody called me up I wasn’t going to say to you, ‘What is your color?’ Or, ‘Where do you live?’ Or, ‘What church do you belong to?’ No, they come, I feed them. They ask, I clothe them.’”

Stay tuned.

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