Photo credits: Corbis/Getty Images
This past week, an icon in black American history was called home after amassing a lifetime of contributions to black women, education, and the fight for civil rights on behalf of the oppressed.
The world was blessed with Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford) on February 18, 1931. Morrison was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio. She was the second of four children to George and Ramah Wilford. Morrison was a product of a middle class family.
Her father and mother were from the South (Georgia and Alabama, respectively) and moved north to start a family and escape the dangerous dregs of Southern racism. Morrison developed an affinity for reading as a child. Her upbringing instilled a deep sense of cultural identity.
In 1953, Morrison graduated with her B.A. in English from Howard University. She earned her M.A. from Cornell University in 1955. In 1967, Morrison’s career in publishing and literature took off. She became the first black woman to hold the title of senior editor at Random House, the largest book publisher in the world.
Morrison’s first published book was a novel called The Bluest Eye. It was released in 1970. However, her third novel (1977’s Song of Solomon) was the project, which gave her national honors. This book won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
In 1987, Morrison’s most celebrated novel Beloved was published. It was the first of a three-part book series. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988. In 1993, prior to the third book of the Beloved trilogy being released, Morrison won the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature.
Morrison’s book Beloved made such an impact that a film (co-produced by Oprah Winfrey) was released in 1998. Winfrey said herself that the film took 10 years to make. In addition to Winfrey, Morrison’s work inspired so many other black women in America from all walks of life.
In addition to winning dozens of national awards and honors for her work (including the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Morrison also served as Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. She passed away on August 5, 2019 due to pneumonia complications at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, NY.
Morrison lived to be 88. Her legacy of black excellence and endurance in the face of oppression will certainly live on.