Today interracial couples face little opposition from families or society, and if they do, it’s those in opposition who are the odd ones out—not the couple. The idea that everybody should be allowed to follow their heart, wherever and to whomever it might take them, is a relatively new one in history. These 16 couples took a risk to be together and became history-making interracial couples.
Sources: Listverse.com, Jewishcurrents.org, Huffingtonpost.com, Monticello.org
This article was first published Aug. 12, 2014.
Their successful careers in music brought them together — Bailey, a famous singer and Bellson, a famous drummer. Five days after meeting, they got hitched in London. Bellson was already catching some flack for being the first white musician in Duke Ellington’s band, and he upset even more people when he became Bailey’s third husband. When touring the Southern states, Bellson would often lie and say Bailey was Haitian to deflect some aggression. The couple was married for 38 years and adopted two children.
Betty and Barney were just an ordinary couple living in New Hampshire —Betty was a social worker and Barney worked at a post office — but one night, after seeing a strange bright light, the two both reported having dreams of being abducted by aliens. They went on record several times talking about the strange dreams and UFO sighting, but retreated into privacy when Barney feared the publicity would make their fight harder for equality as an interracial couple. A film, “Interrupted Journey,” was made about the famous UFO abductees in the 1960s.
Famous British composer Coleridge-Taylor had a white mother and black father and grew up in the suburbs of London. He attended high school with pianist Walmisley, who he later married against her family’s wishes. The Walmisley family made several attempts to stop the marriage before finally accepting Coleridge-Taylor into their family, but the couple still received a lot of verbal attacks from local groups against interracial marriage.
When famous entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. married Swedish actress May Britt, the majority of American states forbade interracial marriage. The couple was set to marry during the election of John F. Kennedy, but Kennedy’s father feared the marriage would mean losing votes, so Davis postponed the wedding until after the election. Frank Sinatra served as best man when the big day finally did arrive, and other stars were in attendance such as Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin.
George Schuyler was a well-known left-wing journalist in the 1920s and Josephine Cogdell was a model-actress-dancer who came from a rich, former slave-owning family. Interested in left wing ideas, Cogdell began writing back and forth with Schuyler, whom she eventually traveled to New York to meet and later marry. When they married, Cogdell wrote on the marriage certificate that she was colored to avoid any opposition. Schuyler eventually became a strong supporter of the right wing, believing blacks could only progress by working in cooperation with whites.
Jack Johnson spent plenty of time in the limelight as both a very successful boxer, and a performer for theater companies. The Jack-of-all-trades was married three times, each time to a white woman. They included Brooklyn socialite Etta Terry Duryea; Lucille Cameron, and Irene Pineau. Events surrounding each of these unions were very controversial, with Duryea committing suicide after rumors of Johnson abusing her and Cameron rumored to have helped Johnson pimp out prostitutes.
After 38 years in slavery, Douglass escaped and married a free African American woman named Anna Murray. They had five children before Murray died and Douglass went on to marry white abolitionist and suffragist Helen Pitts. Douglass’ marriage represented the first of many times the great author and social reformer would stand up for American unity, but the couple received a lot of public criticism. Douglass died of a heart attack 1895 on the same day he gave a speech advocating women’s right to vote.
Haitian-born Laroche went to France at age 15 to study engineering, and there he met his future wife Lafargue. They had two children but supporting their family was a struggle for Laroche since at the time, well-paying jobs were reserved for whites. A series of events sent the family back to Haiti…on the Titanic. When the ship sank, Laroche got his wife and children safely onto a lifeboat, but he died. The Laroches were the only blacks on the Titanic.
Khama was the son of the ruler of Bechuanaland, which eventually became Botswana. After his father died, Khama went to school in England where he met Williams, whom he married a year later. Several members of the South African government and also of Khama’s tribe were outraged by the marriage, banning Khama from the chieftainship. Only after Khama agreed to renounce the tribal throne was he and his bride allowed into Botswana. When the region gained independence, Khama became the country’s first president and Williams proved to be an impressive first lady.
Loving and Jeter met as children in Virginia. When she was 18, Jeter became pregnant with Loving’s child. They moved to Washington, D.C. to get married but just five weeks after their wedding, were arrested for breaking the law against interracial marriage. Banned from the state of Virginia for 25 years, they weren’t going down without a fight. Jeter wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy who then reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union. After nine years, the Lovings were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court which overturned their ban from Virginia.
Leonard Kip Rhinelander was a wealthy New York socialite with a stuttering problem. Alice Jones was a working-class girl with interracial parents. In 1924 they wed, and the New York Social Register promptly listed Jones as colored, which attracted an unhealthy amount of media attention. Rhinelander’s family demanded their divorce. During the annulment trial Jones was made to strip down to prove that she was colored. Rhinelander claimed she fooled him into thinking she was white. Jones won an annual allowance from Rhinelander’s estate. The deep shame of the incident still resonates today.
Louis Gregory was a black American man and Louisa Mathews a white British woman. They met in 1911 while on a pilgrimage to the Baha’i temple in the Holy Lands. Their faith was one that had always stressed oneness of mankind. The two were married the following year in New York, and became the first recorded interracial Baha’i couple in history.
While the U.S. has reduced racism on a large scale, there’s still tons of work to be done. This becomes evident when you realize that Bill de Blasio, elected mayor of New York City in 2013, is officially the first white public official with a black spouse ever to be elected into any sort of major U.S. office. In 2013, a Cheerio’s cereal ad featuring an interracial couple with a biracial child received a bunch of hateful backlash.
“The Color Purple” author and extraordinary activist Alice Walker was born to a sharecropping family in the Deep South. She married Melvyn Levanthal, a white, Jewish civil rights lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi in 1967, directly after the state abolished its anti-miscegenation laws. As an engaged couple, they fought hard against the laws. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca. They divorced in 1976. “It really did seem at times as if our love made us bulletproof or perhaps invisible,” recounts Walker. (The Guardian).
Ziggy Stardust fell in love at first sight with the Sudanese-American model Iman Abdulmajid. They wed in 1992, and while it wasn’t as turbulent as the 1950s for two people with different skin tones to marry, the couple deserves kudos for the longevity of their rock star marriage, and their success in keeping a low profile from the tabloids. This couple is important because of pure talent: he’s a great, expressive artist, and she’s a philanthropist and former supermodel. They’ve been married 22 years.
Now this could all be chalked up to historical hearsay, but the controversy and mystery are timeless and intriguing. In 1802, before Jefferson’s first term as U.S. president, journalist James T. Callendar reported that Jefferson had taken his “quadroon” (house slave) Sally Hemings as a concubine and had fathered multiple children with her. Jefferson never admitted or denied the allegations, though his own known children and grandchildren fervently denied this liaison. However, in 1998, DNA from samples of Jefferson’s and Hemings’ generations analyzed by geneticists showed some interesting, conflicting results. Read more about it at Monticello.org.