The Race and Gender Studies Project Presents

Imagining Slavery, Envisioning Freedoms

April 26-27, 2018
A Symposium on the 30th Anniversary of Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Thirty years ago, critically acclaimed African American author Toni Morrison published her fifth novel, Beloved, loosely based on the tragedy of fugitive slave Margaret Garner who committed infanticide, while she was teaching at the University at Albany. This neo-slave narrative went on to win the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; some would even argue its prestige led to Morrison's crowning achievement when she received the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Thirty years later, we will explore the various ways that this momentous work of historical fiction has influenced our arts, scholarship, and the culture at large when it comes to imagining the legacy of American slavery, contextualizing such histories through the Black Atlantic, and in creating new and provocative visions for freedom.

The symposium features a cross range of scholars and artists who will address these themes through critical conversations.

Thursday, April 26
Dean Alexander Moot Court Room (DAMC) at Albany Law School

6pm - Opening Reception
7pm - Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil(More Information)
Film Screening and Discussion with Filmmaker Donna C. Roberts

Before Toni Morrison wrote the groundbreaking award-winning novel Beloved, based on the sensational tale of fugitive slave Margaret Garner killing one of her children to rescue her from slavery, she and an assistant embarked on research into the history of slavery, which eventually led her on a trip to Brazil. As she described in an interview with the Washington Post: "Slave museums here are upbeat. They have quilts and all the 'cute' things slaves did. Brazilian museums ... eschew 'cute.'"

Morrison's encounter with slavery in Brazil also revealed to her elements of Afro-Brazilian women's culture of Candomblé, a memory of Africa preserved in New World slavery, which she would allude to in her seventh novel Paradise. In her documentary film, Yemanja: African Wisdom from the Heart of Brazil, narrated by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Alice Walker, Donna C. Roberts explores ethics, social justice, racism, ecological sustainability and the power found in community and faith. The film’s story is told through the voices of (or stories of) extraordinary elder female leaders of the Candomblé spiritual tradition in Bahia, Brazil. Out of slavery's brutal history in Salvador, the Americas' largest slave port during the transatlantic slave trade came a vibrant religio-cultural tradition in Brazil primarily led by women.

This specific history would have a global and Diasporic influence on Toni Morrison's novel, providing the visual clues to an institution often elided by U.S. national memory while also revealing the transnational connections between black women resisting, affirming, and reclaiming their sense of identities, families, communities, and worlds.

Friday, April 27
Campus Center West Board Room (2nd Floor) at University at Albany

10am - Welcome
10:30am - Morning Session: The Cultural and Artistic Impact of Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Carmen Gillespie
Bucknell University
Author of The Critical Companion to Toni Morrison & The Ghosts of Monticello
Presentation: “Know it, and go on out there. . .”: Remembering as a Blueprint for Freedom in Toni Morrison's Beloved.”

Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved was a ground-breaking publication in many ways, including expanding exponentially the terms of what territory and philosophy it was possible to interrogate and invent within the framework of the neo-slave narrative. In part, Morrison’s ghost story is a rumination upon the definitions and consequences of memory. Morrison’s reframe of memory as a living, active, dynamic entity has influenced and informed the work of many other artists and scholars, including Jordan Peele, the writer and director of Get Out and Princeton professor, Eddie Glaude. This presentation explores those iterations and outlines the agency Morrison ascribes to rememory as a way of confronting the terror of acting, of fully occupying one’s life in spite of one’s knowledge of the actual and potential violence and devastation of racism.

Benjamin Slote
Allegheny College
Author of “America’s Kentucky Romance and the Rememorializing of Beloved
Presentation: Beloved’s Aggression, Beloved’s Acclaim

How did Toni Morrison’s Beloved become the most acclaimed American novel of the late 20th century? For an answer, this talk considers an unlikely source: the text’s aggressive relation to readers. Other canonical narratives confronting the ordeal of this country’s racial past—works as varied as To Kill a Mockingbird and Invisible Man—may owe their endurance in part to the comfort non-marginalized readers can find in their pages. Beloved offers no such refuge, replacing national structures of romantic memory with the bracing subjectivities of Morrison’s characters. In the process the novel remakes the motives and rewards of reading.

Maya Cunningham
University of Maryland
Director of The Diaspora Institute
Presentation: The Hush Harbor as Sanctuary: Black Women’s Song, Survival Silence and Resistance During Slavery and Jim Crow

This presentation draws on theories of power to examine African American hush harbors, and Black women’s religious practices, depicted and documented in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, WPA Slave narratives and in African American autobiography, in order to argue how Black women’s speech and song was used to resist oppression during slavery and the Jim Crow period. Through performance and analysis, I will elucidate how black women used hush harbor practices, like singing and silence, as tools of survival, as depicted by Beloved’s Baby Suggs, “the Thirty Women,” and as dramatized in Beloved and other films, by gospel singer Dorothy Love Coates.

12noon - Luncheon

Performance to follow:

Savannah K. Gordon
University at Albany
Music Major & Soprano
Performance: “Darkness I Salute You!” from the Opera Margaret Garner (Libretto by Toni Morrison, Music by Richard Danielpour)

Savannah Gordon is a born native from Clifton Park, NY. In the short two years as a UAlbany Great Dane, Savannah has won several awards. She is the recipient of the The 2017 Joel Doven Award in the Advanced Division, the Willard Banks Memorial Award, and took 2nd place in the 2017 NATS Art Song Festival. She also played the role of Mrs. Skosvodmonit in Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Boy Who Grew Too Fast” for UAlbany’s spring opera in 2017. Post-graduation, Savannah hopes to do some traveling and competing in local competitions before eventually pursuing a career in Opera.

1pm -Keynote Address: The Ghosts of Traumatic Pasts: Sethe, the Historical Margaret Garner, and What Their Stories Illuminate About Slavery

This lecture by Nikki S. Taylor will examine the real life and death of Margaret Garner—the woman who inspired the character Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The lecture will emphasize that although the real Garner had a different experience in slavery and freedom than Sethe, what binds the women and their stories is their past traumas in bondage—traumas to their families, bodies, minds, and souls.

Nikki S. Taylor
Howard University
(Author of Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio)

Dr. Nikki M. Taylor is a Professor of U.S. History and Chair of the Department of History at Howard University. She earned her PhD in U.S. History and a certificate in Women’s Studies from Duke University. Dr. Taylor has authored 3 monographs including, Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community 1802-1868 and Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio. She is the recipient of several prestigious fellowships and grants, including a Fulbright and Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Grant. Just this year, she successfully secured a half a million institutional grant to establish the Mellon Mays program at Howard. Dr. Taylor recently started research for her 4th manuscript, which is about enslaved women who waged armed resistance to slavery.


Afternoon Session: Slavery’s Legal Legacy – An Albany Law Panel

Panelists include Donna Young (moderator), Anthony Farley, Peter Halewood, and Christian Sundquist.

This panel-led discussion will explore the legacy of slavery on our legal system and will address the interdisciplinary lessons that the history of Margaret Garner and Toni Morrison’s Beloved can teach us.

The Race and Gender Studies Project, co-founded by Janell Hobson, Annette Johnson, and Donna Young, explores the intersections of race and gender as they shape cultural narratives, arts, politics, and the law. The project has addressed these issues through public events, including a conversation series on Racial Justice, a bicentennial anniversary forum on Sara Baartman, a lecture by Syracuse’s Paula C. Johnson, co-director of the Cold Case Justice Institute, and this year’s 30th anniversary symposium on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The project has been supported by the University at Albany’s Diversity Transformation Fund and the Albany Collaborative Venture Fund between the University at Albany and Albany Law School.

Sponsors for the Beloved symposium include the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Albany Collaborative Venture Fund, University Auxiliary Services, the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Institute for Research on Women, Albany Law School, School of Criminal Justice, Rockefeller College, and the Departments of English and History.

This event is free and open to the public.

See full flyer.