“The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination.” Opinion of the court delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Whenever I visited my grandparent’s home the only thing I wanted to do was hear my grandmother’s stories. Her life growing up in Houston, Texas couldn’t have been more different from my New York City dwellings.
There was one story, about my grandfather, that always filled me with equal amounts of sorrow and joy. Even as a young boy I knew that they’d seen things that a 80’s baby like myself could never fully understand. Yet I still felt the pain that underscored that particular tale.
She’d always start with:
“I know that I’ve probably told you this one before, but it’s important that you know where me and your grandaddy came from.
Even all these years later I remember everything. It was July 4th 1965 and of course I was out celebrating. The block was packed with people, food and dancing. I loved to dance. Then I saw him, your grandfather. He had beautiful blonde hair and bright blue eyes. I used to joke that he was an Aryan dream.
His father owned a few apartment buildings in the coloured neighbourhood and had chosen July 4th of all days to send his son to collect the rent. But, instead of hurrying along like most white folks did when they ventured past Houston’s colour line, your granddaddy just stood there staring at me. Even when I looked away and turned back to him, his gaze was still fixed on me. Unlike the men I’d previously courted his eyes were filled with love, not lust. There and then I promised myself that I was going to marry him.
Your grandfather must have been thinking the same thing, because as I left my job the next evening he was standing outside waiting for me. I knew that I should’ve continued walking, but the fear that I’d previously felt towards white men left as I took in those bright blue eyes. I didn’t care how he’d found me, I was just glad that he had.
Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it chile? But, back then walking off into the sunset just wasn’t an option. In a relationship like ours, going weeks without seeing each other was normal. I’d pine for your grandfather, but what was more important: a few hours alone with him or our lives? You may not believe me, but if anyone had found out they would’ve killed him. Hell, they would’ve killed me. Because, for a white man to be branded a “nigger-lover” in the South meant instant death. They’d torture you first. Drag your naked body through the streets as people spat, kicked and beat you. Then they’d lynch you. just like they did to our brothers. For them, the only thing as sinful as being black was to love one of us.
I couldn’t let this happen to your granddaddy, so I waited. I waited years until I felt safe. Even when your grandfather told me that it was legal, I waited. I waited until I could trust that when he did die it wouldn’t be because of the colour of my skin. Then when the time finally came I knew that I’d done the right thing. The man I loved could hold me and kiss me in public without strangers sneering. We could get married in peace and have our babies in integrated hospitals.
So, chile wait. Wait for the one, because when you meet her it’ll be worth it. Wait for the woman who you want to sacrifice everything for. Trust me.”
My grandmother was a wise woman.
A black grandmother’s love story.
By Shaurna Cameron