Baby Suggs is the mother of Halle, which makes her Sethe’s mother-in-law. She was born into slavery, and she in turn gave birth to nine children. All of her children except for Halle were taken from her and sold to other slaveowners, and in the novel’s present time all of them are presumed dead. Baby Suggs escaped slavery because Halle made a deal with the master of Sweet Home to buy her freedom by doing extra work on other plantations. Once freed, Baby Suggs was escorted to Cincinnati, where she was set up with a house to live in on the outskirts of town. She became an important fixture in Cincinnati’s Black community, where she served as an “unchurched” preacher. Baby Suggs won a reputation as a healer of physical as well as spiritual wounds, and her compassionate, wise, and patient sensibility won the hearts of the community. Even so, her generosity also got her into trouble. After Sethe arrived, Baby Suggs invited the whole community over to 124 for a big feast. The guests felt that the feast was unnecessarily extravagant, and they begrudged Baby Suggs her pride. Upon Baby Suggs’s death, the community’s grudge against her transferred to Sethe.
Baby Suggs has a remarkable ability to maintain an open heart and nurturing disposition despite the physical and spiritual suffering she experienced in her life. As the narrator explains, once she arrived in Cincinnati she felt profoundly exhausted. This exhaustion is the reason she turned to preaching: “[She] decided that, because slave life had ‘busted her legs, back, head, eyes, hands, kidneys, womb, and tongue,’ she had nothing left to make a living with but her heart—which she put to work at once.” Baby Suggs’s commitment to care in spite of her profound existential exhaustion marks her as an exceptional figure in the novel. She is capable of holding space for others’ trauma, which in turn enables healing. In the final section of the novel, when Denver sets out to find work and support from her neighbors, the community’s longstanding grudge against Baby Suggs finally begins to wane. Just as Baby Suggs provided a space of healing for her community, at the end of the novel the community bands together to fend off Beloved in an act of care for Sethe and Denver.