Friday, September 23, 2016

How My Dad Prepared Me for the Loving's Story

I've been juggling so many projects lately that I forgot to post my mid-week blog. I was about to go see what I planned to post, but then something came up on social media that I decided I wanted to write about. It concerns the movie Loving about Richard and Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple who challenged the Supreme Court in a case that was settled in 1967. The case challenged the state of Virginia's prohibition against interracial marriage.

I was in high school when the Loving case was in the news. Of course, back then there was no internet and news outlets didn't sensationalize stories like they do now. I first learned of the story through a story in a magazine—maybe Look or Life—and I sort of fell in love with it. A lot of that had to do with Richard Loving, a construction worker, who was a big, blond, tough-looking guy. Mildred, his wife, was a sweet, demure, black woman and I thought they were a beautiful couple. The thing that got to me—being a starry-eyed teenager at the time—was the way he looked at her in all the pictures. He just loved her so much and they went through so much. I thought it was the most romantic story ever—better than anything in a novel.

My hometown in Pennsylvania was very, very, very white. Most of the people there were the children of either German or Irish immigrants. As one of my friends used to say, “We thought minority meant Italians.” I think I was eight or nine the first time I actually saw black children when I was visiting my aunt in Erie, PA. In school the nuns told us that we were all God's children and no one was better than the other, which was easy enough to live if you grew up in a town with no African-Americans living in it. But I read a lot and watched television and I knew racial prejudice was everywhere.

But something happened one day when I was about 11 or 12 that deeply influenced me and that is what I want to tell. It was a beautiful autumn day and my parents, siblings, and I drove up to the Kinzua Bridge in Mount Jewett, PA, for a picnic and hike. As we always did, we walked across the bridge to admire the foliage. When we got to the other side, Dad said he wanted to climb down the hill and walk back through the valley. I decided to go with him while Mom and the other kids walked back across the bridge.
Kinzua Bridge when I was a kid
It was a steep climb and not for the faint of heart. We were almost to the bottom when we encountered a couple climbing up the hill—the man was white, the woman was black. My dad and the guy looked at each other and their faces lit up. There was hand-shaking and shoulder slapping. It turned out they were old Army buddies and had served together in the South Pacific. The man, whose name I have forgotten if I ever knew it, introduced the woman and I remember she and Dad shook hands. She was very pretty and I remember she wore bright red lipstick and wore a white dress with flowers all over it. After they talked for awhile we both went on our way and I was sort of waiting for Dad to say something. He didn't and finally I said, “Was that lady really his wife?” Dad said, “Yes.” He paused and then said, “Boy, she sure is good looking, isn't she?”

That was it. All he said was how good looking she was. Later I heard him telling my mother about meeting them and he never mentioned she was of a different race. At the time it just surprised me, later it made me very proud of him. So when the Lovings were in the news I thought of Dad's friends, and I wondered if they ever had to face the prejudice that the Lovings did.

A lot of years have passed since then. When I was young I dated men of different races, some of my friends made inter-racial marriages, and I am now the aunt of two absolutely beautiful biracial nieces. Like a lot of Caucasians, I find myself wondering how free of racial prejudice I really am. These days it seems there is so much racial tension—it's hard to know what to say sometimes. But I'll always admire my Dad for the way he handled my first encounter with an interracial couple, and I'll always love the Lovings for letting me see what a really loving couple looked like.

Thanks for reading.


23 comments:

  1. Great story, Kathleen. My sons are biracial, their dad is black and we married in 1975. Here in CA there was not much of an issue but he was from Boston and when we went there to visit it was a very different atmosphere. I was asked my nationality by every single person I met! Crazy.

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    1. I'm always amazed by people's need to know others' backgrounds. It's so peculiar to me. I guess that's just the way people are made.

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  2. Hi, Kathleen!

    Your two related stories are an inspiration. You have every reason to be proud of your father for his colorblindness. You are fortunate to have been raised in a prejudice free family that taught you to be tolerant and accepting of people of other races. Mr. Loving had the ideal name because he modeled love and showed us the real meaning of the oft used and misused word.

    I went through 12 grades of school in York County, PA, and only recall seeing one black student in my district all those years. His name was Don. He was in first grade with me and his family moved away before the start of second grade. As I recall, I was the only friend Don had, the only kid willing to play with him and talk to him. As you probably know, my hometown, York, PA, was a hotbed of racial strife in the late 60s. A white classmate of mine was jumped and beaten bloody in the parking lot outside our high school simply because he enjoyed listening to soul music and hanging around in the city with black kids. My mother taught me to love and accept people of different races, but when I came home on spring break from Penn State one year and announced that I had gone on a date with a black girl, she totally freaked out and my dad nearly had a heart attack. That's when I knew that prejudice was indeed alive and well in my household.

    Thank you for sharing this touching story, dear friend Kathleen, and have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. When I first started college at Behrend in Erie, there were only 4 black students on campus. Actually, 3 and a half because one of the girls was more Polynesian than black and looked very exotic. I remember the day we moved into the dorm the girl who assigned to room with the other black girl totally freaked out and went to the housemother to get her room changed. I was astonished she would do that.

      I want to say a lot has changed since then but there is also a lot that has not. More is the pity. Thanks for visiting, Shady.

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  3. Slowly and steadily I think (hope) that we are realising that we are more similar than we are different.
    Love the lesson your father gave, and remember the pain of being called Jew bitch as a child. And my experience was nothing by comparison to so many others.

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    1. I was really lucky because I worked for a Jewish guy, Mr. Berman, when I was in high school and he was SO nice to me. He owned a bridal shop and a women's sportswear shop and when he discovered I was sort of artistic he started letting me do floor displays and then windows. I really owe him so much--nobody ever encouraged me to be as creative as he did!!!

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  4. Great post to share. The town where I grew up and still currently live was very white and has now become much more colorful. I was very proud that my children have never really used skin color when describing their schoolmates - like it never occurred to them that it might be a point of interest. Maybe we're finally getting somewhere.

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    1. We can only hope, Jean. It's one person at a time these days.

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  5. What a beautiful post. It was wonderful of your father to be so kind and set a good example. I didn't know about the Lovings, but so many states are full of dumb and mean laws... There needs to be housecleaning. Like you, I grew up in an all white area. Protest marches and civil rights court cases were just things on TV. I dated racially diverse people in college, too. But with the rise of rap music, gangs, drugs, and the media sensationalizing everything, I've begun to feel I'm getting prejudiced. I dunno. Is it prejudiced to think Kanye West is a gigantic a-hole? On the other hand, there are certain white people who fit the bill, too. Maybe I can be judgmental without being prejudiced.

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    1. Of course you can be judgmental without being racist! Kanye West IS an a-hole. But for every Kanye West we have a Neil DeGrasse-Tyson or a Michael Eric Dyson and that's something to celebrate.

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    2. Mrs. Shady and I watched Neil's superlative documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I'm guessing you have seen it but, if not, we highly recommend it!

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  6. It's interesting to see how things have changed and yet not so much. Interracial couples are so commonplace now. It's interesting to see how that wasn't so.

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    1. Not only was it not common, it was against the law! Thank goodness that much has changed at least.

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  7. Hi Kathleen - what an interesting post - but what a wonderful lesson it taught you. Life has certainly changed ... I know in South Africa, which I went to live in for a while, I was considered odd - as I would talk to the Africans and treat them as humans.

    It's terrible to see the racial and bullying elements still around and being encouraged by some ... we are living in uneasy times ... many accept so much and so easily - realising we're all human. Let's hope the world improves - Hilary

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    1. I keep hoping but I'm stunned by how many people are incredibly racist and appear to be proud of it. It makes me crazy.

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  8. I come from a mixed family. My dad was in the army, and I honestly knew so many mixed families that it seemed odd to me when someone had two white parents.

    Whenever we visited the town where my father grew up, we kids got the same question over and over, "What is your mother?" My sister had the perfect response, "Our mother is a lady. What is yours?"

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    1. That's a very good response. Good for your sister.

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  9. And also, Bravo to your dad, it's so nice when you can look back and realize wonderful things about your parents.

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    1. Thanks. It's a mixed bag sometimes so I'm always happy to find something positive to feel good about.

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  10. I'll have to look into the Loving story. And how great that their name was "Loving." Poetic.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

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    1. I thought that was a beautiful coincidence.

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  11. I really appreciate the comments here, as well as your beautifully thoughtful post. I'm sorry to say that my parents considered interracial marriage unappealing, for lack of a better word, during my childhood. I countered that I thought the diversity would at least be good for the human gene pool. My interracial friends were/are always so beautiful, too, as I notice(ed) in my shallow and envious way. At least my folks act politely toward all races and never mention any ongoing issues. God bless the Lovings for their forthrightness. Be well, my dear.

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