The midwife tried for 15 minutes to puff air into the lungs of the lifeless three-pound newborn girl. Suddenly, she stopped, looked up and said, "I think that she is dead."
But Walter and Annie Morgan, who already had 16 children, wouldn't give up that day--Aug. 19, 1966. The couple prayed for their baby. She started to breathe. Miraculously, she survived.
And today, Geraldine Morgan Capehart is scheduled to get her college degree from Bowie State University. Bowie State spokeswoman Loretta Hardge said the university plans to recognize mother and daughter during the graduation ceremony at US Airways Arena. U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman will be the featured speaker.
"I feel like I have a million dollars, it is so overwhelming," said Capehart, 32, whose graduation is to be witnessed by most of her 17 brothers and sisters and her mother, now 73.
Capehart is number 17 in a family of 18 children born into a northern Florida farm family that had a strong work ethic and an uncompromising Pentecostal religion that eschewed most medical attention. On the Morgans' 35-acre farm in Marianna, all of the children were expected to learn how to work the fields and care for farm animals. When someone fell ill, faith took priority over pills and physicians.
"They wanted the baby to take medicine, but I didn't give my children any medicine," said Annie Morgan, whose family attends Church of Christ Written in Heaven in Marianna. "We raised all of our children. We didn't give them medicine. We believe in divine healing."
While some medical experts might question the Morgans, father Walter Morgan is a healthy 84 and spends most of his day working outside taking care of herds of cows, hogs and goats. Walter wanted to attend Geraldine's graduation but rarely can leave Marianna because of his responsibilities on the farm.
Farm life wasn't easy for the children. Capehart, like her brothers and sisters, had to get up before sunrise to either pick peas or feed the cows, hogs or goats. The Morgans lived in a four-bedroom cinder-block house that didn't have electricity or running water until the 1960s. But Annie Morgan gave birth at home to all but her first child, Betty, who is now 53.
Then came Elijah, Isaiah, Walter and the twins, Daisey and Hezekiah. Next were Zachariah, Paul, John, Marie and Joseph. Then came Samuel, Nepton, Randolph, Nadine and Patricia. Then came Geraldine and, finally, Nehemiah, now 31.
All 18 of the Morgan children graduated from high school. Twelve have had at least some college education and several were in the military. Among them are brick masons, chefs, carpenters, computer operators, gospel preachers, a beautician, teachers, a postal clerk and a corrections officer.
Annie Morgan said it took extra effort to raise Geraldine because her older brothers and sisters spoiled her: "Everybody just babied her. She didn't want to cook. I had to get behind her in her typing class. I had to make sure she did certain things."
Capehart said learning was tough. Because of her premature birth, she is blind in one eye. Her eye muscles were not fully developed. "Sometimes I would study so hard, until my eye would get tired and I couldn't see at all."
While Capehart had support from all her siblings, she does not want to relive those days. "I had to work in the fields picking peas and peanuts. That's why I had to leave the farm, run to the city and get an education."
Capehart, like six of her siblings and many other African Americans, migrated north in search of a better life than the one she left in Florida. Along the way, she was married and divorced. She received an associate's degree from Chipola Junior College in Marianna, and then in 1988 she moved to the Washington area after she got a job at the headquarters of the Naval Intelligence Command.
After working for several years for the Navy, Capehart decided she wanted more. "I received an AA degree, but even with that degree they didn't want to promote me, so I decided to go back to school," she said. Capehart's degree from Bowie is in English. She has been hired as an elementary school teacher in the Prince George's County public schools and plans someday to go to law school.
Capehart said her dramatic birth must have been God's will.
"I feel it was something that God had in the cards for me," she said. "This lets people know that no matter where you come from, it doesn't determine where you can end up in life."
CAPTION: Annie Morgan, center, is surrounded by many of her 18 children and some grandchildren. Next to her is daughter Geraldine Morgan Capehart, who graduates from Bowie State University today. Mother and daughter will get special recognition at the graduation ceremonies at US Airways Arena.