05 Apr Random threads
Yesterday marked 50 years since Martin Luther King died, killed by a single bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. I spent yesterday digging around in the history of interracial marriage in the USA. The two things are unconnected – at least my choosing yesterday for this particular research is completely coincidental. And strange, as is the way with coincidences.
I had come across my grandparents’ marriage certificate while I was clearing my mother’s flat last year. I’m still working my way through her leavings, spending time letting my thoughts wander over the insights and consequences of an inheritance of sundry possessions. The certificate was down the side of a drawer in the chest in my mother’s spare bedroom. Folded up in a plain brown envelope that looked so inconsequential in amongst a miscellany of old Christmas cards, expired calendars and more luggage tags than a person could ever need, that I almost threw it away. Thankfully I didn’t.
The License was issued by the Deputy County Clerk of Genesee County, Michigan in 1926. It’s a pre-printed form with headings in extravagant Gothic script and spaces for certain details of the couple to be typed in: place of birth, residence, age, occupation, father’s name, mother’s maiden name; the usual stuff. And then something much less usual caught my eye: “color is….”. “White” had been typed into the space provided. I looked again to convince myself I hadn’t misread. This is where my mind started to wander around the random threads that determine so much of life, the what-ifs. It’s also where I realised that, just as I knew very little about the history of civil rights in the USA, I also knew much less than I imagined about the history of my own grandparents. Or rather, I knew facts: that they met and married in Michigan and that my mother was born there. But not meanings: did they understand the symbolism of having their colour inscribed on their marriage license? Did it trouble them? What was it like back there, back then? Questions I never thought to ask till now.
It’s also just over 50 years since the US Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of interracial marriage was unconstitutional, a ruling that resulted from the case of Loving vs Virginia. How miraculously apt that the couple who brought the case against the state of Virginia that finally changed federal law was a Mr and Mrs Loving. You couldn’t make it up.
My grandparents, both from the west of Scotland had emigrated to Flint in Michigan for entirely separate reasons and that’s where they met and fell in love. Their marriage license survives to tell a fragment of their personal story. And it bumps up against how many other stories? Of other young couples whose love was thwarted, whose path through life was paved with obstacles?
A random thread.