Toni Morrison, the Nobel Laureate, author, professor, and Pulitzer Prize winner, who has died at the age of 88, had two sons and an ex-husband throughout her long life.
Toni Morrison was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, where she attended public school before enrolling in Howard University in 1949. Her cause of death is not yet known, but she died surrounded by family. Her sons were named Slade and Ford.
She was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, on February 18, 1931, and had three siblings.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Toni Morrison’s Youngest Son Died of Pancreatic Cancer
Toni Morrison weathered tragedy throughout her life. Her youngest son died of pancreatic cancer. He was in his 40s when he died, according to NPR.
His Simon & Schuster author page says that Slade Morrison “was born in Ohio and educated in New York City. He studied art at SUNY Purchase and collaborated with his mother, Toni Morrison, on five books for children.”
According to the Nashville Public Library, The Big Box, “a story about boundaries and behavior expectations for children, was created by Toni’s then 8-year-old son, Slade.” Morrison added “haunting rhyming text,” the library wrote in an article.
The Smithsonian notes that Slade Morrison died in 2010.
2. Toni Morrison’s Other Son Works as an Architect
Morrison’s surviving son is named Harold Ford Morrison but is often known as Ford Morrison. A 2016 article in the Jamaica Observer reports that Harold Ford Morrison is an architect with the Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory.
“It now feels fantastic to see her continue her work. As a child I felt some curiosity and wonderment when it came to her writing,” he told the publication of his mom.
“Beloved was a revolutionary work,” he said when asked which book of his mother’s was his favorite. “The notion of killing one’s own children to protect them from slavery has reached a wide audience.”
Morrison once said about love and family, “Each generation has a kind of love.”
She told the Nashville Public Library: “Some of it’s really tough. What my grandmother thought was love of her children was really staying alive for them. What my mother thought was love of her children was to get a better place, maybe get enough money to send you to college if you wanted to. What I thought was love of my children was giving them the maximum amount of freedom, setting an example of how you could make choices in your life.”
3. Toni Morrison Was Married Briefly
Morrison’s marriage followed shortly after she started teaching at Howard. Her ex-husband was Harold Morrison, an architect born in Jamaica, according to BBC.
They married in 1958 and had two sons together, but the marriage only lasted a couple of years.
Harold Morrison’s career sparked his son’s similar one. “When I was four years old I saw my father’s drawings for the first time and knew instantly I wanted to do that,” the son told Jamaica Observer.
The site referred to Toni Morrison’s ex-husband as the late Harold ‘Moxy’ Morrison. Although the sons were raised mostly by their mother, Harold Morrison praised his father to Jamaica Observer, saying, “His impact was profound. His determination, his talent. He had that dash of flamboyance in both style and action.”
4. Morrison’s Mother Inspired Her Creativity
Morrison’s mother is often credited with inspiring her daughter’s love of words. She was “both musical and highly imaginative and inspired her daughter’s blossoming love of literature through the sharing of songs and folklore,” according to BBC.
According to the book The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, Toni Morrison’s mother was named Ramah Wofford, and she was a domestic worker.
Ramah was “always optimistic about better relations between the races,” the book says, adding that black migrants to Lorain, Ohio “found a better life in the North.” According to the book, “Morrison grew up in a close-knit three-generation family that placed high value on group loyalty and women’s centrality to its social and personal cohesion.”
Through Ramah and other family members, Toni Morrison grew up steeped in “the heritage of black culture… the lore, music, language, myths, and rituals they valued,” the book says. Her mother “used a dream book to decode dream symbols,” according to the book.
The book, Critical Companion to Toni Morrison: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work by Carmen Gillespie describes Ramah Willis Wofford as a “gifted singer” who was active in church. She once refused to “sit in the segregated section of the movie theater,” the book says. Ramah also worked at American Stove Works, as a custodian in public schools, and attended Greater St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church. Toni Morrison’s mother sang in the choir and inspired her daughter to attend college, the book says.
In Lorain, Toni Morrison went to integrated schools. She was raised in a family with a sister, Lois, and two younger brothers named George and Raymond.
5. Morrison’s Father Worked as a Welder
According to BBC, Morrison’s father was a welder who “also held down other out-of-hours jobs in order to support his family.”
Morrison’s dad’s name was George. He worked in shipyards and steel mills as well, sometimes working three jobs at once, The American Midwest book says.
Morrison once told NPR that her father suffered trauma from witnessing racial discrimination and murder. “My father saw two black men lynched on his street in Cartersville, Ga., as a child. And I think seeing two black businessmen – not vagrants – hanging from trees as a child was traumatic for him,” she told NPR.
The book, Critical Companion to Toni Morrison: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work by Carmen Gillespie, says that Morrison’s dad retained a “deep and unwavering suspicion of white people,” after witnessing injustice.