Recently, the New York Times published an article related to and as part of their series, “Race/Related’, about interracial unions, love and marriage. Coincidentally, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Loving vs. Virginia.
Before I add my thoughts on what it meant for the Lovings-Mildred and Richard, and all Americans, I have to give a little background. My in-laws are not too distant relatives to the Lovings. When my former husband and I were married, he told me of this couple who had fled the county because of their love for one another and their subsequent marriage[they were actually married in D.C.]. His family were the Jeter-Johnsons of Caroline County. They were a family of blacks who were of mixed heritage, although in this county, blacks and whites lived near each other rather peacefully. Mixed with Native American, white and black blood, this family were of the hue that could ‘pass’ for white, as it was called. This meant that when leaving their town and migrating north, if you didn’t know many of my in-laws’ family history, they would be viewed as white, Hispanic…all but black. They ‘passed’, but in Bowling Green, everyone knew and didn’t have to deny any part of their heritage for fear of undue hardships associated with being black in America.
The history is that their cousin Mildred fell in love with a white man and at that time, it was forbidden, illegal, immoral, and just unacceptable to the powers-that-be. Ironically, the families in that area, for the most part, were all of mixed heritage, and because of this very mixing of the races, children were born and thus very few could say that there was any ‘pure’ single race lineage. What made the Loving story so profoundly different is that they dared to display their love for one another publicly, and their return to their places of birth was considered criminal[a felony] show of voluntary defiance of laws against it.
My husband’s family-the Jeter[-Johnsons], also Mildred’s family, lived and were raised in a part of the south where Mayflies abound, follow and chase you, and will bite if given a chance. Those insects always traumatized me when I visited the family burial grounds. In order to get to the plots, you must travel deep into and through a wooded area, and make it past those darn mayflies. But, that was their home, and it was beautifully peaceful, too. It was so, so close to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a stretch of land for military training activities. If, at any time, day or night, there were disturbingly loud noises, guns and other artillary, that was the source- the Proving Grounds.
So, here we are, many years later and interracial unions are more open, more accepted, and looked upon less negatively as those years ago. Where this story parallels with my life, is in the life of my oldest daughter, the USAF Major and Instructor Pilot. She met and fell in love with a great, handsome young man, also a USAF Major and Instructor Pilot. He just happened to be white. But, so what! They’re in love and still going strong after almost nine years of marriage and military life.
I remember my youngest daughter’s initial confrontation with racial identity. She came to me when she was about 10 years old and asked, “Mom, what am I?” She was asking this because her dad always boasted the native American and white parts, but he underplayed his African-American roots. She was confused also because when we went to Bowling Green in Caroline County, Virginia, everyone was closer to her complexion and for the Jeter-Johnson clan, there was a fine line between what we perceive as white and black.
She had been asked to complete a school survey, and she had to self-identify. Her hair was/is very long, complexion fair, and she didn’t fit into any exact racial mold. So, hoping that she could embrace the fullness of her heritage, establish her own identity, I told her how she’s unique, but not to be defined solely by race- defined by her character. Make no mistakes that she, my children are black, African-American, but more importantly, I wanted her to understand that she is an American and an individual worthy of love and respect.
My oldest daughter and her husband, my adorable son-in-law, recently had a little baby girl. She has blue eyes, and sandy blond hair, and she, too will be considered black by hard-nosed individuals, though she is of mixed descent. She certainly should not discount or deny neither the African-American, White or Native American or any other part of her heritage. Actually, we are all a conglomeration of many ethnicities, races, and so forth, and that alone should dictate that we demonstrate our respect and appreciation for one another and ourselves. We are all family!
My granddaughter is loved, and will certainly face challenges and will have questions. But, with the love she receives at home, she will take that with her out into the world, and spread that love to all. To me, and hopefully everyone she meets in life will not see her within the boundaries of race, but in the fullness of her uniqueness as an individual.
It seems that as far as we have traveled to rise out from the mire and murk of segregation, separatism, and racial prejudice, we should have advanced towards the inherent equality of all human beings, who breathe the same air, and wish for a fulfilling life. Yea though we still have a long way to go, MLK’s dream is still alive and we must continue to fight for the realization of democracy and authentic human equality in America.
My greatest hope is that my granddaughter, your children, and your children’s children will live and thrive in a global society where the content of character reigns supreme over skin color, religious beliefs or background. We deserve to be better than yesterday and live better today, as we plan for a better future.
To Mildred and Richard Loving- Here’s to 50 years of interracial progress! My children stand on your shoulders with pride in their interracial love and marriage and friendships, as well! Thank you to all who dare to love without limits! Let’s all love without limits!
Read at least one story about this couple, or the NY Times article for more information about this couple who only wanted to love, live and raise their children in peace in America. Share your story. Everyone has one.