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AFS Review: In Memoriam

Kathryn Morgan (1919-2010)

Sunday, November 28, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jesse A. Fivecoate

By Debora Kodish and Marilyn M. White (Kean University) — 

When Kathryn Morgan, former Emerita Professor in History and Folklore at Swarthmore College, first published her African American family stories of survival in 1966, she anticipated the fields of family folklore and storytelling. Her ground-breaking book, Children of Strangers (1980), explored the power of African American family stories as buffers in cultivating justice and love, and in exposing lies. It helped us address key questions: How do you keep dignity and spirit intact in the face of racism and injustice? What do we know and need to know about one another? In all facets of her work—scholarly and creative writing, teaching, storytelling, and "holding court,” Kathryn exemplified a way to be in the world. She documented, performed, and encouraged these stories in her own many extended families, embracing all the "children of strangers.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Morgan earned an MA from Howard University and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Kathryn came to the "formal” field with more than a graduate degree: she brought deep knowledge bestowed and nurtured by her family and the community. She was a former Executive Board member of the American Folklore Society, and additional professional affiliations included the National Council of Black Studies, the Association of African and African American Folklorists, the National Afrocentric Institute, and the Philadelphia Folklore Project, upon whose board she sat in the early 1990s. She was also a 2006 honoree of the National Association of Black Storytellers. Kathryn L. Morgan was a radical scholar, ahead of her time. She knew who she was, and self-knowledge was part of her power and gift to others—kin and stranger alike. (Courtesy Swarthmore College for some of the above.)

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