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Modern Medea January's Book
Modern Medea
A Family Story of Slavery and Child-Murder from the Old South
by Steven Weisenburger

In 1856, a family of slaves attempted to escape their Northern Kentucky masters by crossing the frozen Ohio River. But while waiting in Cincinnati for their guide on the next part of the journey north, they were surrounded by slave catchers. One of the fugitives, a young mother named Margaret Garner, killed one of her own daughters rather than see the child returned to slavery. In a nation already perilously close to civil war over slavery and states' rights, her case caused a sensation, with both abolitionist and pro-slavery orators attempting to use it to justify their own stances. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati courts, the federal fugitive slave law clashed head-on with Ohio's attempt to prosecute Margaret for murder.

More than a century later, Margaret Garner's story became the seed for Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, in which the murdered child haunts her family. After that book became a best-seller, Steven Weisenburger set out to write an essay placing Beloved in its historical context. That essay soon grew to a book: Modern Medea, a detailed and highly readable account of the legal twists and turns and almost unbelievable real-life events in the lives of the Garners that makes the world of slavery horrifyingly real.


Watch the program [requires RealPlayer®]

Card catalog entry from the Library of Congress

Blurbs from the book jacket

Book review from the History Cooperative database

Amazon.com information page

Barnes and Noble information page

Video clip: The Real Beloved is a segment from KET's Kentucky's Underground Railroad—Passage to Freedom about an archaeological dig at Maplewood. Steven Weisenburger is interviewed about the Margaret Garner story. [Requires RealPlayer®]

The Kentucky's Underground Railroad site has extensive additional resources about the fugitive slave movement in Kentucky, including information on the history of slavery and more audio and video segments.

To Garner Stories—an essay comparing facts of the Margaret Garner case to events and characters in Beloved

Beloved is a round-up of links on the novel, the film adaptation, author Toni Morrison, and Margaret Garner from the Aussie School House.



Steven Weisenburger

Video: interview with Steven Weisenburger by bookclub host Bill Goodman (14:54; recorded 12/19/02) [requires RealPlayer®]

Profile from Southern Methodist University


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