Who is Margaret Garner?

Margaret Garner by Thomas Satterwhite Noble
Margaret Garner by Thomas Satterwhite Noble

Margaret Garner was the fugitive slave who was the inspiration for the protagonist in Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel "Beloved". She became widely known when she was captured while escaping to freedom. She killed her two-year old daughter, and attempted to kill herself and her other children, believing they would be better off dead than forced to live as slaves. The subsequent trial became a cause célèbre for abolitionists, who wanted her to be tried as a free person in Ohio for murder, as did Margaret herself, even though it would bring the death sentence. But she was tried in Kentucky and convicted, not for murder but for theft, and was forced back into slavery for the rest of her days. 

Her story is also the subject of an opera by Richard Danielpour, with libretto by Toni Morrison.

You can check out the DVD about the making of this opera at SCCLD, as well as books and movies related to the Margaret Garner tragedy and other slave escapes and rebellions.     

Margaret Garner

Tunisian director Mustapha Hasnoui's documentary offers a backstage look at Margaret Garner, which not only includes scenes from the opera but also the story of Garner herself, plus a chronicle of the problems incurred in mounting this memorable production and a glimpse into the life of mezzo soprano Denyce Graves. His film subtly documents race relations in America and the need to reconcile the past and present. 

Driven Toward Madness by Nikki M. Taylor

The first African American woman to write a history of Garner, Taylor explores the transformation from murdering mother to icon of tragedy and resistance through the lens of black feminist theory and slavery's legacy of psychic trauma.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison's beautiful, complex, and unforgettable novel about the slave who escaped to Ohio eighteen years earlier, but is haunted by the ghost of her baby, whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. 


While the film can't possibly capture the richness of Toni Morrison's great book, this highly rated film features outstanding performances. Some say that seeing the film helps one understand the book, and reading the book helps to understand the film. 

Slavery's Legacy

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Books, films and art that speak to the trauma and evils of slavery and the bravery and daring of slave rebellions and escapes.

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