The view from The New Yorker’s photo department.
In 1950, a young man from Central Point, Virginia, went seven miles down the road to hear some music. Seven brothers named the Jeters were on that night, playing bluegrass in a farmhouse. The young man had come for the music, but couldn’t help noticing a young woman in the audience. The man, Richard Loving, was white; the woman, Mildred Jeter, was black and Cherokee. Seventeen years later, as a result of their meeting, the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, along with anti-miscegenation laws in fifteen other states, ending the legal prohibitions against interracial marriage.
A Caucasian friend of mine asked if I had seen the PBS Valentine’s day documentary about the Lovings. I thought that perhaps he was soliciting my opinion and response to the film and the issue of interracial marriage as he knew that my wife and I are an interracial couple. I had also had a recent email from a relative living in Philadelphia about what it was like for us to live in Spokane, that we as an interracial couple we must have been real pioneers. Here is the response I wrote to my friend:
I saw the documentary the other night on the Lovings. My wife of 44 years, Diane, and I were familiar with the court case of the Lovings but never really discussed it. You see the summer of 1967 when the case was heard before the Supreme Court was the beginning of a loving relationship between Diane and I. At the time for me it was kind of a nonevent because there were many interracial relationships in our segment of the civil rights movement, which was the environment I was in at the time. Then moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, the home of Haight Ashbury, we were again in an environment that accepted and encouraged such relationships. It was a subject that I couldn’t imagine discussing with the black women in my Chicago black community. The women might have been just as upset as the bigots in Virginia and the guys probably would have snickered and said yeah right on without seeing it as a serious relationship. Or anger if they knew it was a white man and black woman. At that time there wasn’t 24 hour TV news and people might not have realized that it was a white man and black woman. When I heard of the case I never pictured a specific couple, I just saw it as a court ruling not as a story about actual people. When we lived in Palo Alto I knew we had a controversial relationship but I never really thought about it. Until we went to see Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. There were about 5 interracial couples in the audience and when the lights came on and everybody stood up, everyone stared at us. After moving to Spokane I began to notice other interracial couples and to make observations. There were categories: basketball players and cheerleaders, Air Force personnel and spouses, biracial kids with white mothers in Kmart. Then I went to a meeting of a newly forming organization for interracial families and actually discussed the issue – once. The only time in Spokane’s black community that I heard it discussed was a group of women having a conversation at the home of a prominent black community leader. I overheard a discussion coming from another room, I definitely was not a part of the conversation. I don’t know how many of the interracial relationships of those I knew in the 60’s survived. I have doubts about the cheerleader – athlete and military spouse relationships, but I do know of many long-term apparently healthy interracial marriages, several within my own family. But we never sit around and discuss it. Maybe this is a discussion that could take place at 4comculture.com in the More Cultures section of this site.
Bob…thank you for your open response. I agree that this is an excellent place to begin an open conversation on this subject. It is very relevant. Everyone has an opinion and many an experience that could enlighten and help someone else. Your response to your friend was good. Did you also respond to your family in PA? I have not seen the PBS special on the Lovings but would like to.
Yes In a short email will make a phone call soon.
For what they endured for love of a man for a woman I say,” thank you Loving(s)”. We must in my opinion embrace each others cultural differences and learn of each other in order to survive what we must face outside of all that is familiar.