By Isabella Daley
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, local author Kareem Simpson came to McNicholas to share the story of Margaret Garner, a Kentucky slave who escaped to Cincinnati across the Ohio River.
Simpson first learned about Garner’s life and escape by watching a movie based on Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, and he found that Garner’s story was important to Cincinnati and to himself.
“The story of Margaret Garner is one that’s very personal to me. I think it’s something that shows that our region is bigger than we think,” Simpson said.
“My favorite thing [about hearing Simpson] was how he related things to today,” freshman Hadley Jerome said.
Librarian Chelsea Almer, a friend of Simpson, invited Simpson to speak to the students as part of Black History Month (Read an editorial on Black History Month at McNick here). Simpson taught the students about Cincinnati in the 1800s, Cincinnati’s role in the abolitionist movement, and the impact Garner’s trial had on abolitionists in the area.
“Cincinnati was a cultural center, not only for Ohio, but all of the United States,” Simpson said. “There are a lot of things that happened here that were a catalyst for change.”
Simpson’s main focus was on Garner’s trial after she killed her two-year-old daughter so she would not have to grow up in slavery. The trial lasted for four weeks as authorities debated whether to try Garner for murder or theft.
“The abolitionists and people on her side wanted her to be tried for murder because it would show that her daughter was an actual person,” Simpson explained to the students. “This is a pivotal point and hopefully makes you think a bit.”
Jerome said that hearing about Garner’s trial and killing of her daughter changed his perspective on slavery. “I think the part where she killed her child… was really deep. I obviously understood that slavery was a horrible thing,” Jerome said, “but slavery must have been absolutely horrible for a mother to kill her child in order for it not to go back into slavery.”
Garner’s story also changed Simpson’s perspective on both slavery and history, and it inspired him to become an author. “I wanted to find stories that reflected me, and I couldn’t find any, so I wrote them,” Simpson said.
Simpson has written a series of four short stories that are intertwined with Garner’s life and take place in the present day. “They revolve around magic and fantasy and a secret hidden for millennia,” Simpson said. His book Chronicle of a Boy Misunderstood contains three of the stories, and A Coven’s Limit contains the fourth, longer story Simpson wrote.
“I found that I was an artist, and writing was my art,” Simpson said.