By Ashlee Hall, Lifestyles editor
The history of The University of Montevallo goes much deeper than what you might think on the surface. It plays a role in the history of central Alabama, the effects of which we are still seeing today.
On Sept. 14, Dr. Melanie Morrison, a descendant of Edmund King’s daughter, Elizabeth King, held a seminar in Carmichael Library where she shared her experiences while researching the suppressed stories of racism, prejudice and abuse surrounding King House.
The seminar “A Just Reckoning: Finding Deeper, Truer King House Narratives” and Morrison were hosted by the Montevallo branch of the American Association of University Women and the UM Peace and Justice Studies Program.
Morrison is an author, speaker and anti-racism educator. With over 30 years of experience in training and educating groups to learn more about the narratives in history, she enlightened her audience with the truth behind the King family.
Throughout the seminar, Morrison referenced many literary works on the topic of racism in the South and the history of central Alabama. One of which being “The Lives and Time of Kingswood in Alabama 1817-1890,” by Golda Johnson, the wife of former university president, Nelson Johnson. This book tells the story of the King family but neglects to mention the role slavery held in their history. This plays a role in why Morrison is working to bring light to the true narrative of King House.
Edmund King was a wealthy landowner, merchant and entrepreneur, who, during the 19th century owned a large amount of land across central Alabama. His primary residence was at King House in Montevallo. King later donated the land to the university when it was named The Alabama Girls Industrial School in 1896.
Morrison centered her seminar around three different points. The first being how the history of the King family is connected to some of the bigger events in American history that we still study today. The land surrounding Montevallo was built by slaves and the indigenous people who lived here before. The indigenous people who once populated this area were forced to leave their homes due to the Indian Removal Act, signed by president Andrew Jackson in 1830.
The next point is one that tends to be overlooked— the role that white women played in enslavement. Although women were not allowed to own any property at the time, Elizabeth King, daughter of Edmund King, was an exception to this rule. She owned several slaves, either bought with her own fortune or left to her by her father. Despite most women not being able to own slaves, they were still the ones in the homes commanding and abusing them.
“The role that women played in enslavement must be investigated,” said Morrison.
The last point of the seminar was the toll that racism and abuse took on the bodies, minds and spirits of those enslaved. Not only was this trauma caused directly by the slave owners because of the living conditions and abuse, but also because many of the slaves were separated from their loved ones and could not flee due to the harsh conditions and fear of being caught.
Morrison told the story of an enslaved woman named Sookie who saved up all of her earnings to strike a deal to keep her family together. She paid $1,600 to keep her and her two daughters, Margaret and Ann, together.
The court document written on Sookie’s behalf, and other documents from this dark period in our history can be found at the Shelby County Museum located in Columbiana, where they are working to digitize their records so that families can track their relatives and uncover more of their heritage stories.
Through education, Morrison says she is able to “do a deep work of truth telling and healing so that we might break silences and rebuild the foundations of our community.”
Morrison has a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. in theology from University of Groningen in The Netherlands.
For more information about Morrison and her works, you can visit her website at melaniemorrison.net.
Ashlee Hall is the lifestyles editor for The Alabamian. She is majoring in mass communication with a concentration in multimedia journalism with minors in public relations, social media administration and food and nutrition sciences. In her free time, she enjoys reading “Southern Living Magazine,” curling her hair and making niche Spotify playlists.