Today I would lobby hard that the church remember a voice who spoke for so many in America: Toni Morrison, Author and Activist.
Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio in 1931, She learned the horrors of racism at an early age when, as her parents couldn’t afford the rent, the landlord of their home lit it on fire while they were still inside. This trauma, along with the generational trauma in her family, would help inform her life’s work.
At the age of 12 Chloe was baptize in the Catholic church and took the saint name Anthony as her baptismal name. This got shortened to Toni, and that’s how we know her today. She was inspired by Austen and Tolstoy in her writing, but also by the legends and ghost stories of her family lore. An imaginative young Toni started to tell tales and weave wonderful stories together early on.
Toni attended Howard University, and then went on to teach English in Texas as a newly married woman and mom. The marriage did not last, but in 1965 Morrison’s career took a big jump as she became the first black senior editor at Random House in New York City. From there she used her position to elevate black authors. At the age of 39 Morrison joined the ranks of those she edited, publishing her first book The Bluest Eye. The year was 1970, and this first book would go on to become required reading for so many of us.
Morrison would go on to publish many more books and plays, and in 1987 published her most celebrated work, Beloved, a story about an enslaved Black woman, Margaret Garner.
To call it a masterpiece is to undersell it.
Toni would turn Beloved into a trilogy, finishing the series ten years after the first publication. The first book in the series would go on to become a movie, and Morrison’s place amongst great American authors would be secured, and from 1989 until her retirement in 2006 Morrison held a chair at Princeton University in Humanities. In 2017 Princeton dedicated Morrison Hall in her honor.
As a political activist, Morrison was not known for staying quiet in the face of racism and abuse. At the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Toni spoke loudly and clearly for justice and told of a system that still targeted black and brown bodies.
Toni Morrison died on this day in 2019 at the age of 88 from complications of Pneumonia. She lives on, though, in the stories, plays, and inspired minds she leaves behind.
Toni Morrison is a reminder for me, and should be for everyone, that telling truthful stories, even if they’re fiction, can shape a nation.
It has before
-historical bits from public sources
-image painted by Nannette Harris