It started with his ties: Beetle Bailey, Star Trek, Looney Tunes. They were not fashion forward, to put it mildly, but I wanted to know who would wear such kitsch.
I would stop by his desk, ask about the tie of the day, and we’d chat about whatever. This went on for months. He told me later he admired my steel magnolia personality, and I couldn’t resist his boyish face. One night, while out with our colleagues in Montgomery, Ala., he asked me to dance. When the song ended, he didn’t let go. A few months later, we were talking about his new truck when I suggested I’d like to see it. In the time it took me to look down at something on my desk and back up again, he was in front of me. “How about Sunday?”
I left that job for grad school a couple of years later, but he was a constant in my life as I moved around the country, as far west as San Francisco and as far east as Washington, D.C. I was on my way to Florida when he told me not to do anything until he could talk to me about marriage. That was eight years ago.
At that moment, we didn’t give much thought to the obvious. He is white; I am black.
When he asked me to marry him in October 2000, a law banning interracial marriages, though unenforceable, still sat on Alabama’s books. The state’s voters repealed the law a month later but was the last in the country to have language from the segregated South remaining in its constitution—and 40 percent of the Alabama electorate wanted to keep it that way and opposed removing the ban.
For us, though, all that mattered that day in 2000—and every day since—was that he loved me; the—generous, pensive, temperamental me—and that I loved him; the fiercely loyal, easygoing more-conservative-than-I-would-like him.
We didn’t give any thought to Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple who were married in Washington, D.C. in 1958 and had the audacity to return to Virginia only to be arrested for violating the state’s Racial Integrity Act. We didn’t need to give the case or their story much thought. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned their conviction and legalized interracial marriage on June 12, 1967.
The Lovings left a legacy. Today, interracial couples make up 7.4 percent of the nearly 61 million married couples in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, and some celebrate Loving Day on June 12.
So it was more than a little disturbing to learn that some readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatchwere disgusted and repulsed in April by a photo of a black man kissing a white woman on the cover of the newspaper’s weekly Go! magazine.
While some readers saw the image as a kiss, others criticized the paper for pushing a liberal agenda.
Forty-two years later, and this is how far we’ve come.
I wondered whether those offended by a photo were also troubled when they saw interracial couples holding hands or snuggling. Were they offended when white children sat next to black children in school or when blacks and whites ate dinner at a restaurant or rode together in a car?
Do we really want to go back to that America? Because even that America was not how we remember it. True, we can’t forget that Emmett Till lost his life for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. But DNA tests prove that Sally Hemings’ children were indeed related to Thomas Jefferson, and Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the black daughter of Sen. Strom Thurmond, who built his political career as a segregationist, told the story of the close but secret relationship she shared with her father after his death in 2003.
Our history, whether we like it or not, is inextricably linked.
I fell in love with a man who has a keen sense of humor and loves Alabama football. I am told he fell in love with a folk art lover who is way too serious at times. For all the opposites, we have far more in common. We grew up on military bases, are journalists, love an eclectic mix of music and are enjoying raising our two young daughters. Our differences become fewer and fewer the longer we’re married. I’ve become a football fan and relish that we have season tickets, while he has taken far more interest in folk art than I could have ever imagined.
As for those neckties, they’re still hanging in a closet. Our girls sometimes point to them and ask about the cartoon characters, and I look forward to the day when we tell them how those ties started it all.
This essay first appeared on The Root.