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“If God had meant whites and blacks to mix, he would not have placed them on different continents.” What some mixed race couples faced to be together.

One of the major themes of my second novel, The Girl and the Sunbirdis forbidden love. Mixed race relationships were once an enormous taboo and, in some parts of the world, remain so. I wanted to explore the repercussions of this in a colonial setting where a strict etiquette governs social structures, going to great lengths to segregate the colonisers and indigenous population. Iris and Kamau, the protagonists of my novel, are taken on a journey whereby they desperately try to curtail their growing feelings for one another and, upon failing to do so, attempt to navigate a path through the deeply divided British East Africa of 1903. They are painfully aware of the risks they are taking but as their relationship is conducted completely in secret, for most of the story they do not face direct judgement from the outside.

I wanted to delve a little into a couple of fascinating mixed race relationships from the past in which quite the opposite happens: the relationships are not kept hidden, and the bravery and conviction of those involved results in unions that are loving and yet, unsurprisingly, fraught with obstacles.

THE STORY OR RICHARD LOVING & MILDRED JETER

Photograph taken by LIFE magazine, 1966

Just weeks following Richard and Mildred’s marriage in 1958 in Washington DC, police officers burst into their house in the middle of the night in their home in Virginia, a state where mixed race marriage was not recognised. Initially, they pled guilty to violating the state’s Racial Integrity Act and they were told by a judge that “… if God had meant whites and blacks to mix, he would not have placed them on different continents.”

Inspired by the civil rights movement and with the support of Attorney General Robert F.Kennedy, the Lovings’ case was taken on by the American Civil Liberties Union, finally winging its way to the Supreme Court in 1967. Quiet, private people who only wanted a peaceful life with their children, this was not to be as they were hurled out of their comfort zone into the public eye. The judges voted unanimously in favour of Richard and Mildred’s right to be married (a case known as Loving Vs Virginia), resulting in the landmark decision to find all laws prohibiting mixed race marriage across the country unconstitutional.

A film, based on the incredible story of this couple is due to be released in late 2016. Click here to see the trailer.

Richard & Mildred’s three children

THE STORY OF SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR & JESSIE WALMISLEY

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (not to be confused with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, after whom he was named) was a British composer and musician whose musical prowess resulted in being dubbed as the ‘African Mahler.’ Born to an English woman and a Creole from Sierra Leone, Coleridge-Taylor suffered considerable racial abuse as a youngster. He was called ‘Coaley’ at school and at one point, his hair was even set alight.

Samuel’s wife Jessie Walmisley hailed from a middle class Victorian family, firmly rooted in the imperialist traditional. The youngest of eight, all of her siblings and both her parents were vehemently opposed to her growing friendship with the musician, whom she met at the Royal College of Music where she was studying voice and piano. Despite that, the pair married in 1899 in Croydon, much to the horror of Jessie’s family. Samuel himself once said that her parents were ‘…bitterly opposed to their daughter becoming the wife of a ‘Blackie’ and they ‘tearfully warned their Jessie that if she married him…he would…take her to the ‘Dark Continent,’ compel her to live amongst his naked relations and wear no clothes.’

Jessie went on to become the target of harrassment. Their daughter Gwendolen once said that when her father saw a gang of local youths approaching them on the street who often flung verbal slurs at both her parents, “…he held my hand more tightly, gripping it until it almost hurt.”

Samuel’s wife Jessie with their two children

Coleridge-Taylor is best known for The Song of Hiawatha, his trilogy of cantatas, but he also composed a vast number of other pieces of music during his tragically short lifetime. Click here to listen to one of his beautiful piano compositions.

Had Iris and Kamau from The Girl and the Sunbird been born in another time, another place, they may have chosen to live out their love for one another quite differently. The two tales I’ve highlighted above are just two amongst countless inspiring stories of interracial unions that have survived the odds.

Do you know any other stories of interracial relationships that have either faced disapproval or been unopposed from the outset? I’d love to hear them.

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Rebecca

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