Know Ohio: Toni Morrison

Over the last month Know Ohio correspondent Mary Fecteau has brought you stories of Ohio’s rich African American history in honor of Black History Month. Well, as we wrap up this month and head into March -- which is Women’s History Month -- Mary will you tell about one of Ohio’s most famous writers, who happens to be an African American woman.

As early as the 1800’s Ohio was regarded as a place where African Americans found, for the most part, equal treatment. Ohio public schools were integrated – they allowed students of all races and Oberlin College became one of the first colleges in the country to admit black students. So it’s not surprising that many African Americans found refuge here after the Civil War, when southern states passed unfair laws that made life difficult for black southerners.

The historic resettling of six million southern African Americans to northern states like Ohio is known as the Great Migration, and it brought the family of Ohio’s most famous writer – Toni Morrison. Toni was born in Lorain in 1931, but her family instilled in her a southern heritage of storytelling and folklore. As one of few black students in mostly-white classrooms, Toni was a star student at Lorain High School and she developed a love of reading, especially classic novels like those by Jane Austen.

Toni left Ohio for college at Howard University, and worked in publishing and as a professor for many years before she wrote her first novel. That novel – The Bluest Eye – was set in Toni’s hometown, Lorain, and told the story of a young black girl who wishes for blue eyes and white skin – something Toni did herself as a child. The novel was so successful that it launched Toni’s career as a writer – she went on to write several more novels that are now considered classics: such as Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved.       

Over the years, her writing has earned her many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given by President Obama in 2012.

Toni Morrison is arguably, the country’s most celebrated writer – and her story began right here in the Buckeye State.  

Instructional Links

Website Article: Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, Toni Morrison

Video: BBC, Toni Morrison, Childhood Memories

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