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April V. Taylor: Toni Morrison Earned The Right To Choose Her Legacy

April V. Taylor

It seems many people have taken offense to Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison choosing to leave her papers as part of the permanent library collection of Princeton University, where she taught at for nearly two decades.  Those who have taken offense feel as though the papers should have been left to HBCU Howard University, where Morrison graduated from and also taught such influential Black leaders as Stokley Carmichael.

One of the most vocal people has been an anonymous person who simply goes by the name Anti_Intellect.  In an open letter he penned to Morrison, he expresses his profound sense of loss that, “the raw material that ultimately became the many refined masterpieces you have created,” and while he expresses himself poignantly and with elegance, he admits that he does not understand the process behind these types of decisions.  While generations of Black men and woman have come to know, liberate and own their Blackness because of Morrison’s work,  this does not mean that an HBCU is the only rightful place for her legacy to be enshrined.

The truth is that many HBCU’s are struggling with enrollments at 1,000 or less and with recent tightening of eligibility criteira for Parent Plus loans through the Department of Education, the outlook for many HBCU’s, including Howard is not great.  While Morrison’s papers may provide a rich cultural legacy for Black students of Howard to draw from, should Howard cease to exist as it is now, Morrison’s papers could wind up somewhere she did not intend.  One reader who responded to the open letter put it bluntly stating, “Toni left her papers to a place that would further her legacy, and not pimp it out in times of financial struggles…Though she and I both went to Howard, we didn’t attend the same school (get it?)  Perhaps the Howard University she went to is what Princeton is NOW and perhaps she left her papers to the school she feels closely connected to.”

Others, including myself, feel that Morrison has had an global impact that resonates with people of color all over the world, not just Black Americans.  An institution like Princeton has a much broader global reach in terms of the audience they are able to make her papers available to.  While everyone has the right to their own opinion, I believe that Toni Morrison has earned the right to decide how her legacy will be preserved for future generations; she has proven her competence as a writer, an artist and a Black woman.

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