MS. TONI MORRISON 1931 – 2019
Written by ZenKC on August 22, 2019
Story by Chuck Tackett
MS. TONI MORRISON 1931 – 2019
“If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem, and White people have a very, very, serious problem.”
“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.”
The above quotes are my favorites from novelist Toni Morrison. They are very significant in these turbulent times this country is coming to terms with. Sadly, Ms. Morrison passed away early this month, but the legacy of her works and words will continue to live on. Forever.
Ms. Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio on February 3rd, 1931. Her parents Ramah and George Wofford moved from the south to Ohio to escape racism and secure gainful employment.
When Toni was 2 years old, her family’s landlord set fire to the house they were renting. The landlord knew the Toni and her family were inside the house. The reason the landlord committed this monstrous act, was that Toni’s parent at the time couldn’t afford their rent.
Toni’s family responded by laughing in the landlord’s face while the house was burning. Her parents were trying to teach Toni how to keep your integrity and claim your own life during acts of evil and crudeness. Ms. Morrison’s parents, throughout her childhood, instilled in her a sense of heritage and language by telling Toni traditional African American folk tales, ghost stories, and singing songs. Toni also read constantly as a child. Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy were her favorites. At the age of 12, she was baptized as a Catholic, and took the baptismal name Anthony, after Anthony of Pada, which is where her nickname, “Toni,” came from.
After graduating from Lorain High School in 1949, Toni headed to the historically Black college of Howard University located in Washington DC. While at Howard, Toni encountered racially segregated restaurants and buses throughout DC for the first time. In 1953, she graduated from Howard with a B.A. in English and earned a Master of Arts from Cornell University in 1955. She met and married her husband Harold, a Jamaican architect in 1958 and divorced him in 1964.
Toni’s first novel “The Bluest Eye” was published in 1970. The novel centers around a Black girl named Pecola. While growing up, because of her dark skin and mannerisms, Pecola is labeled as “ugly.” Pecola developed an inferiority complex because of the constant teasing about her looks. This caused her to have a desire to want to have blue eyes, which she equated as “Whiteness.” In turn, that equated her to seeing White as being beautiful.
Throughout her career, Ms. Morrison wrote numerous plays and novels. In the 1990s, Oprah Winfrey made Toni Morrison a household name. Oprah had started her book club. She selected four of Ms. Morrison’s novels to showcase. Sales of her books exploded. Some call this “The Oprah Effect.”
Being the horror movie fanatic I am, in 1995 I was ecstatic about the movie adaptation of Ms. Morrison trilogy novel, “Beloved,” which starred Oprah, Fanny Glover, and Thandie Newton. Supposedly, it flopped at the box office. I thought the movie was genius. Supposedly, people did not want to sit 3 hours with a movie concerning slavery, coupled with a ghost (supernatural) theme.
Throughout her life, Toni received numerous awards for her works. In my opinion, the noblest ones were in 1993, in which she won The Nobel Peace Prize in Literature, and in 2012, The Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to her by President Barack Obama.
Ms. Morrison was never one to shy away from politics and race relations. She was noted as coining the phrase “our first Black President to President Clinton’s supporters in the 1990’s and feminism pertaining to women of color.
In 2012, Ms. Toni was questioned about the difference between Black and White feminists in the 1970s. She responded, “Womanists is what Black feminists used to call themselves. They were not the same thing, and also, with the relationship with men, historically Black women have always sheltered their men because they were out there, and they were the ones that were most likely to be killed.”
Ms. Morrison passed away on August 5, 2019, at the age of 88 in New York City
At times in writing, especially when it is about an accomplished person’s life. I find it very challenging to do it justice with the amount of space. But, I trust in my readership that if they want to know more, they will do their own research and not just depend on my condensed versions.
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