What Is the State of Interracial Marriage Today?
On July 13, 1958, in the middle of the night, police raided the bedroom of newlyweds Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black woman, and arrested them for violating the Virginia law that said two people of different races couldn't marry. (Twenty-three other states had similar bans.) The Lovings were jailed briefly, then banished from Virginia for 25 years. The new drama Loving captures their crusade to return home, a fight that triggered the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriage nationwide.
Much has changed for black-white couples: 87 percent of Americans now approve of their unions — up from only 4 percent in 1958. But hate still exists: This summer a white supremacist stabbed a black man and a white woman in Washington State after he saw them kissing. So what’s the real state of love and race?
Glamour spoke with eight women whose marriages mirror the Lovings about life over the last half-century. Spoiler: #lovewins.
In the early sixties, roughly half of all states legally classified marriage between whites and blacks as a felony. Interracial couples who married were arrested, insulted, and harassed.
“My parents said the only way they would give me my daughter back was if I left my husband.”
Gail Tillmon, 80, is white; she married her ex-husband, Smiley, who is black, in 1960: Interracial marriage was illegal in Florida, so Smiley and I had to go to the Bahamas to marry. I entrusted my two-year-old daughter from a previous marriage with a colleague whom I thought I could trust. I was wrong: She brought my daughter to my parents’ house and told them what I had done. When we got back, my parents said the only way they would give me my daughter back was if I left Smiley. I refused. They filed a lawsuit claiming I was unfit to mother my daughter because I abandoned her. I wanted to fight for her, but if I had tried, the state would have taken her away. So I signed the papers and gave my parents custody. It was heartbreaking. I hardly got a chance to say goodbye; I came by the house one last time to rock her to sleep. My family didn’t call until 20 years later, when my father was dying, and I saw my daughter for the first time again before he passed away. She was in her twenties. We stayed in touch a little until my mom died a few years later; then she cut off contact. I have regrets, of course — I wonder if I could have run away with her. Smiley and I were married for 34 years before divorcing. We faced prejudice, but we had good times and five beautiful kids together. I still live in the house where we raised them, and it’s full of happy memories.
"My husband received a letter that said he was going to have 'polka-dot' children."
Leslie Uggams, 73, is black; she married a white man, Grahame, in 1965: I met my husband, who is Australian, while I was singing in Sydney in 1964. We hit it off right away; not long after, he visited me while I was performing in Los Angeles at the time of the Watts Riots. He knew about racial tensions in America, but suddenly it was there for him to see with his own eyes: protesters and police clashing, buildings on fire, and, in less than a week, 34 people dead. We both felt pain. We had made a pact to live our lives together, so what affected me and my race affected him. Thankfully, living in New York and L.A., we didn’t really have discriminatory experiences at home, but we did when we traveled, like when we went down South for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968. We were staying in this hotel in Atlanta, and one of the organizers knocked on our door and said, “You two are staying in the same room together?” Grahame said, “This is my wife. I’m not going anywhere.” And I just thought, Oh my God, where have I been? I remember also receiving a letter from Detroit that was addressed to Grahame. It said he was going to have “polka-dot children” and used the N-word. You don’t want to get mail like that, but it didn’t make me frightened—or him. People outside, that’s their opinion. It’s ignorance. Now our daughter is married to a white man, and it’s more accepted. Every now and then she gets a look, but I tell her it’s because she’s so beautiful.
In the decades following the Loving decision, black and white spouses still faced shocking racism.
“A policeman thought my husband was kidnapping my child.”
Jillian Wheeler, 69, is white; she married Dempsey, an African American, in 2004: I will never forget this run-in we had with the cops in 1996, on the way home from vacation. At 3:00 A.M. Dempsey pulled into a gas station to refuel. I was asleep in the backseat, and my nine-year-old, Matthew—my son from an earlier relationship—was up front when a cop car pulled in and circled our vehicle. This cop just drives around repeatedly, staring at Dempsey. Dempsey rolled his window down to see what was up, and the officer said he’d run a stop sign. He hadn’t. Based on his disdainful expression, Dempsey and I thought the cop was just suspicious of a dark man with a blond kid. I sat up and explained that we were a family headed home to Austin, Texas, and he left us alone. We were both shaken. I mean, this policeman basically thought my husband was kidnapping my child. I was indignant, but Dempsey felt fear. He’s more afraid in situations like that; I’m more apt to be pissed off because I assume the police aren’t going to hurt me. Luckily, we live in liberal Austin. At home we’re not talking about our race; we’re pinching ourselves at how lucky we are to have found each other.
"The cashier thought we were stealing."
Amy Wise, 51, is white; she married Jamie, who is black, in 1993: In 1994 Jamie and I were at a store exchanging baby gifts when we ran into two friends, also a white woman and a black man. The cashier started acting strange. I joked that he thought we were stealing, but he didn’t laugh. When we walked outside, police surrounded us. They handcuffed Jamie and told him and our black male friend to get on the ground. When Jamie said he hadn’t done anything wrong, they put a gun to his head. I was so shocked I went into false labor. We learned that, five days earlier, two black men had committed an armed robbery, and the police assumed it was them, back to do it again — this time with receipts in hand and a pregnant woman! They eventually let all of us go. I wanted to sue, but Jamie said: “This is the way it is for black men, Amy.” What’s sad is he’s right. The same things are still happening 22 years later. But you have to keep going. That stuff could have broken us early on, but it didn’t. Love trumps all, no matter what.
“As a black woman, I don’t want to be a fetish.”
Alyson West, 39, is black; she married Michael, who is white, in 2010: We had both dated people of other races before; we chose people, not race. But I had come across men who expressed interest in me for what felt like the wrong reasons; they would say things like, “Black girls are just…mmm!” I had no desire to become someone’s fetish. As much as I love being a black woman, I highly doubt I’d be compatible with someone who placed that trait over my intelligence or humor. Know me. Know Alyson — and everything that comes with that. Michael accepts all of me.
"White privilege is real, but it’s not something she chose."
Kia McCall-Barnes, 32, is black; she married Kenzie, 32, who is white, in 2014: Kenzie and I met on a lesbian dating site. When she first messaged, my page said— KENZIE: “No white girls.” KIA: [Laughs.] It did not! It said: “I like beautiful black women.” Raised in rural Alabama, I never had interest in dating a white girl. I was Miss Afrocentric, but Kenzie broke through: She wasn’t just a white girl; she was this beautiful, open-minded person. We married in Washington, D.C., because gay marriage still wasn’t legal where we lived then. Now we’re planning for a family. Recently someone asked me if Kenzie was “afraid to raise a black baby in America.” I thought that was ridiculous. KENZIE: But I had definitely thought about it. Like, how will we teach our children it might be scary for them? I’ve seen Kia’s world, and I can’t help but think about it. KIA: White privilege is real, but it’s not something she chose. It doesn’t cause animosity with us. We’re here for each other. We protect each other from the world.
"We aren’t breeding designer dogs."
Jennifer Graham, 28, is white; she married Will, who is black, in 2016: Will and I live in the South, and we get a lot of looks—mostly from older people. We also get bombarded by comments that “mixed-race kids are the cutest.” A stranger asked me if my baby girl’s father was black. She tried to make her inappropriate comment better by saying, “I hope I didn’t offend you, she just has the most beautiful caramel skin tone. Please have more!” I find it offensive when people ask about her dad’s race. We aren’t breeding designer dogs. We aren’t together to make a statement. We’re together because we’re in love.
More From Glamour:
• 5 Truths of Being in an Interracial Relationship
• Love Is Love: The Most Beautiful, Inspiring Couples on Instagram
• Love-Moji App Brings Interracial Couple Emoji to Your Phone
• The Trailers for This Winter's Must-See Movies
Photo Credit: Getty Images