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.