Photo courtesy of Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
African American Folklorist, Historian, Poet, and Educator
Kathryn Lawson Morgan
Dr. Kathryn Lawson Morgan was a pioneering folklorist, educator, historian, storyteller, and poet. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she earned an MA at Howard University in history and an MA and PhD in folklore from University of Pennsylvania. She was among the first African Americans to earn a PhD in folklore studies. After a stint at University of Delaware Newark and later as visiting associate professor at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and a quarter at University of California-Berkeley, she joined the history department faculty of Swarthmore College as the college’s first African American professor, teaching courses in oral history, folk history, and folklife. When she began teaching folklore within the history department, her interests in folklore were considered outside the mainstream. However, beloved as a teacher, she became the first African American woman to earn tenure there and eventually was honored with the title of Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot Emerita Professor of History and Folklore. She retired in 1995 after 25 years at Swarthmore.
Dr. Morgan’s scholarship was grounded in African American folklore and history. Her landmark book, Children of Strangers, revealed how generations of her own family had used family stories to neutralize the impact of racism and its internalization through storytelling and truth telling while imparting family history. This classic book is the first work of African American family folklore by a folklorist, and by uncovering folkloric practices of resistance within urban middle-class Black communities, it also expanded notions of what African American folklore might be and who might be its bearer.
Morgan was one of the first African Americans elected to the Executive Board of AFS, was a member of the Association of African and African American Folklorists, served on the Board of the Philadelphia Folklore Project, and was named to the Circle of Elders of the National Association of Black Storytellers. She was a Danforth Foundation fellow and awarded a Smithsonian Institution-American Philosophical Society grant. Morgan wrote several articles and she was recognized for her poetry writing. She was working on several uncompleted works at the time of her death. Among her acclaimed works is:
Children of Strangers: The Stories of a Black Family (1980)