The story on her birth certificate is a simple one: Toni Morrison was born on 18th of February 1931, in the small town of Lorain, Ohio.
Unfortunately, it is not altogether the only story.
It fails to mention that her suffering was actually born sometime around 1445 across the Atlantic, in Africa, coinciding with the Portuguese making first contact with the new world, which sparked the colonization of the Americas by Europe and subsequently led to the harvesting of Africans for labor on the cotton plantations and in the tobacco and sugar cane fields.
There’s no mention of the fact that her first serious experiences with revenge (Haitian Revolution) and betrayal (July 4, 1776) came before she’d been able to bathe in happiness or lose herself in the sweet taste of freedom.
One learns nothing about how her love blossomed and grew in 1865, only to have it wither and decay as quickly as it came, when the first Jim Crow laws were passed, and the sound of the chain-gangs could be heard in the distance.
And we can only speculate about the origins of her creativity, intelligence, and resistance, which matured far beyond imagination and survive today. A triumvirate example of what we all are not but nevertheless aspire to.
No, none of this is recorded on her birth certificate and that is why she wrote.
If ever one is to pick up one of her novels, “The Bluest Eye,” “Beloved,” “Jazz,” one will begin to learn her history, which is the history of America, and realize it is not so simple or innocent as those high school history textbooks we all learned from, once wrote about.
Today, with the death of Toni Morrison, America has lost of its original children and arguably its best writer of the second half of the twentieth-century. If it is as much a duty to know our founding fathers and exercise our constitutional rights, it is as much our responsibility to learn and understand our history. In reading one of Toni Morrison’s books, one begins to take on that responsibility.
Rest in power, Toni Morrison. May we honor you by our work, selflessness, and sacrifice for those still fighting for freedom in America and all over the world.
Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.