In January 1856, Margaret Garner and her family were at the center of one of the most dramatic and intensely contested fugitive slave cases in the nation's history. Just hours after escaping slavery in Kentucky and taking refuge in a home in Cincinnati, the Garners were cornered by authorities. As the captors sought to enter the house, Garner killed her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Mary. Reports suggested that she had tried to kill her three other children, too. These events were instantly sensationalized in the media, stimulating heated debates throughout the country: What did it mean that a mother would rather kill her children than see them returned to a life in slavery? What should happen to Margaret Garner? The conflicting answers to these questions exposed the fault lines over slavery within a nation already drifting toward civil war. While Garner's story has famously inspired Toni Morrison's most celebrated novel, Beloved, the details of the actual events remain largely unknown. In Who Speaks for Margaret Garner? Mark Reinhardt has assembled the most important primary documents concerning the case and its aftermath-newspaper accounts of the Garner family's escape, capture, and trial; sermons; editorials; legislative debates; and literary responses-opening up a new perspective on American culture and society on the eve of the Civil War. Immersing readers in a wealth of fascinating documentary evidence, this book offers not only a singular exploration of antebellum America's debates over such contentious issues as slavery and freedom, race and gender, party and region, and law and politics, but also an engrossing introduction to the work of historical and cultural interpretation.
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Number of pages: 320
Weight: 558 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 25 mm
"Mark Reinhardt's thoughtful presentation does American identity a tremendous favor. Although the theater may already have introduced Margaret Garner's sensational tragedy, only now can we follow her excruciating transit through competing jurisdictions and contentious representations. Reinhardt grapples honestly with the fine grain of racial subordination on the eve of the Civil War, paying attention to the silences of forgetting as well as the record of remembering." -Nell Irvin Painter, author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol
"Of all the fugitive slave cases, the Margaret Garner case was singular. Reinhardt's comprehensive volume documents the full panoply of the public argument, in the courts and the popular media, North and South, over the meaning of Garner's actions as a freedom-seeking slave mother. Who Speaks for Margaret Garner? shows us why any effort to reclaim the ever-elusive Garner today must reckon with those who tried to speak for and against her more than 150 years ago." -William L. Andrews, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill