Among the most wrenching accounts of an enslaved American, the story of Margaret Garner reveals the consequences of bondage, particularly of sexual violence and violation. In 1856 she escaped her enslavement in Kentucky by crossing the frozen Ohio River into Cincinnati with her husband and children, but her attempt at liberation was unsuccessful. Seeking freedom through infanticide, she killed her two-year-old daughter to prevent her return to slavery.
Despite or perhaps because of its horrific details, much can be learned from Margaret Garner’s brave resistance. Until Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and other recent revivals, Margaret Garner was largely forgotten. Yet, her life provides a foundation from which to discuss resistance for all women in both historical and contemporary contexts.
Her story was revived in the 2005 Opera Margaret Garner for which Toni Morrison wrote the libretto, and Richard Danielpour composed the music. Commissioned by the Cincinnati Opera, in collaboration with opera companies in Detroit and Philadelphia, Margaret Garner opened in 2005 to commemorate the one year anniversary of the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
As a member of the Margaret Garner Opera Steering Committee, Dr. Delores Walters motivated both traditional and non-traditional opera-goers to attend the performance in several cities with her introduction to the historical Margaret Garner.
Walters’s article “Rendering Margaret Garner Accessible: The Preproduction Outreach Campaign,” was published in Margaret Garner: the Premiere Performances of Toni Morrison’s Libretto, edited by LaVinia Delois Jennings. This book of essays won the Toni Morrison Society Best Edited Book Award for 2016.
Garner’s story became the thematic center of "Gendered Resistance: Women, Slavery & the Legacy of Margaret Garner" after a symposium also titled Gendered Resistance co-sponsored in 2005 by Miami of Ohio University where Mary E. Frederickson was then a history faculty member and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati where Delores M. Walters was then a community education specialist. Over the course of three exciting days, scholars, artists and activists presented their work on slavery and resistance in the form of presentations, performances, and exhibitions to an eager audience of students, and faculty from across the region.