08 May 2008

Construction of Race

After my Construction of Race class today, I wanted to post a few things I've read recently:


Loving Decision: 40 Years of Legal Interracial Unions

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Richard Loving with his arm around his wife, Mildred

Richard and Mildred Loving gave their name to the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down anti-miscegenation laws in more than a dozen states. Bettmann/Corbis

The Movies and 'Loving'

Richard Loving with his son Donald in 1965.

Grey Villet
Richard Loving poses with his son, Donald, in 1965. Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Michele Norris looks through a scrapbook with Bernard Cohen

Melissa Gray, NPR
Bernard Cohen and Michele Norris examine a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about the case. Cohen, now retired, was one of two lawyers who argued the Loving case before the Supreme Court.

A newspaper clipping of the Lovings from the Miami Herald dated January 28, 1965

Melissa Gray. NPR
The Lovings made front-page news around the country and were featured in magazines such as Newsweek and Life.

Bryan Walker, Anna Blazer, and their two children, Brianna and Brandon

Courtesy of Anna Blazer
Bryan Walker, Anna Blazer and their two children, Brianna and Brandon, live just miles from the Caroline County courthouse. They have endured sneers, taunts and even violence from strangers.

All Things Considered, June 11, 2007 · This week marks the 40th anniversary of a seminal moment in the civil rights movement: the legalization of interracial marriage. But the couple at the heart of the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia never intended to be in the spotlight.
On June 12, 1967, the nation's highest court voted unanimously to overturn the conviction of Richard and Mildred Loving, a young interracial couple from rural Caroline County, Va.
That decision struck down the anti-miscegenation laws — written to prevent the mixing of the races — that were on the books at the time in more than a dozen states, including Virginia.
'They Just Were in Love'
Richard Loving was white; his wife, Mildred, was black. In 1958, they went to Washington, D.C. — where interracial marriage was legal — to get married. But when they returned home, they were arrested, jailed and banished from the state for 25 years for violating the state's Racial Integrity Act.
To avoid jail, the Lovings agreed to leave Virginia and relocate to Washington.
For five years, the Lovings lived in Washington, where Richard worked as a bricklayer. The couple had three children. Yet they longed to return home to their family and friends in Caroline County.
That's when the couple contacted Bernard Cohen, a young attorney who was volunteering at the ACLU. They requested that Cohen ask the Caroline County judge to reconsider his decision.
"They were very simple people, who were not interested in winning any civil rights principle," Cohen, now retired, tells Michele Norris.
"They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom. When I told Richard that this case was, in all likelihood, going to go to the Supreme Court of the United States, he became wide-eyed and his jaw dropped," Cohen recalls.
Road to the High Court
Cohen and another lawyer challenged the Lovings' conviction, but the original judge in the case upheld his decision. Judge Leon Bazile wrote: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. ... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
As Cohen predicted, the case moved all the way up to the Supreme Court, where the young ACLU attorney made a vivid and personal argument:
"The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that if should they not wake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them. They have the right to be secure in knowing that, if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security benefits. All of these are denied to them, and they will not be denied to them if the whole anti-miscegenistic scheme of Virginia... [is] found unconstitutional."
After the ruling — now known as the "Loving Decision" — the family, which had already quietly moved back to Virginia, finally returned home to Caroline County.
But their time together was cut short: Richard Loving died in a car crash in 1975. Mildred Loving, who never remarried, still lives in Caroline County in the house that Richard built. She politely refuses to give interviews.
Interracial Couples Today
Since that ruling 40 years ago, interracial marriage has become more common, but remains relatively rare. Sociologists estimate that 7 percent of the nation's 59 million marriages are mixed-race couplings.
And even now, interracial marriage remains a source of quiet debate over questions of identity, assimilation and acceptance.
Take Anna Blazer and Bryan Walker, for instance. The white woman and her black husband, with their two young children, live just miles from the Caroline County courthouse. Donald Loving, a grandson of Richard and Mildred Loving, introduced the couple when they were teenagers.
Blazer, now 23, says her family was initially wary of her then-boyfriend because of his race.
"My mom was a little weird with it, because he used to wear this really long — they call it bling-bling — he used to wear a bling-bling cross around his neck and baggy pants. And I don't know, she just kind of looked at him kind of funny when she first met him," Blazer remembers.
But over the years her mother has warmed to Walker, 21.
Blazer says that although many things have changed since the days of anti-miscegenation laws, life is still difficult for them in Caroline County. The couple endures sneers, sideways glances and more from strangers.
"Just a couple of months ago... Bryan got beat up in the Wal-Mart parking lot because he was with me and my sister, and these white men came up to him and they were yelling. The guy ripped off his shirt. He had racial slurs all over him...and they just started going at it," Blazer says.
"I think my life would be a whole lot easier if I was with a white man. And Bryan feels the same way, but he loves me. He really does. And we are meant to be together," Blazer says.


Ex-Black Panther Finds Strength in Gospel Path

Published: Tuesday, May. 6, 2008
Editor's note: Noting the 30th anniversary of the 1978 priesthood revelation, this is the second in a series of profiles on black Mormons and their families. Next week: Tony Parker, president of the Atlanta Georgia Stake.

For Ronald McClain, interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a gradual process.

He recalls that as a law student at University of California-Davis, a female law student caught his eye. As they became friends, he learned that she was a member of the church. He and Deena Peterson eventually married in 1982.

Although his wife was not active in the church when they married, that soon changed.

"We started going to church together, and we looked at the church as a way to help raise our family," McClain said in a recent telephone interview from Oakland, Calif., where he is a member of the 1st Ward.

"She didn't urge me to join, but I saw how the church was part of her life. I learned about her family and her home ward."

He says her father was especially kind to him. "He welcomed me and made me part of the family. When the elders approached me, I already had a receptive attitude. I thought, 'I sure can see a lot of good things that can come out of it.' "

McClain was baptized in 1986, and he and his wife have been active ever since.

Now working in his own law practice, he is also a sealer in the Oakland Temple and community relations specialist for the church's Bay Area public affairs — a long road from his younger days as a member of the Black Panthers, a black activist political group in the 1960s and 1970s.

"It was a time of upheaval in the black community, and I was sympathetic to it," McClain said. He says the issues were important to blacks, and he was active in the Panthers and similar groups for four or five years.

But since his baptism, he has gained eternal perspectives. He and Deena, also a lawyer, are the parents of three daughters, two in their 20s and one teenager still at home. Their middle daughter, Rachel, is about to be married in the temple to a returned missionary.

"(Our daughters) have always been active, participated in youth programs and followed the path of the gospel," McClain said. "The church has been quite a blessing in our lives."

McClain was baptized after the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members regardless of race, so he didn't have the experience of making that transition. But he has seen some unsettling reactions from some church members toward black Saints.

"The church is a challenge for anyone to join, a startling and dramatic change," he said. "The church is a 24-by-7 commitment."

Sometimes prejudice and bias show through, he added, because the church is made up of human beings.

"We as human beings aren't perfect," he said. "If you're facile in the workday world, you'll be the same in church. If you have difficulty in the world, you'll have the same in church.

"I've had people react ... to me as a black person, not as a fellow Saint, even in the temple. As you go different places, it just happens."

He has seen fewer of those reactions in Oakland, where there is more diversity in the population in general.

He takes comfort in President Gordon B. Hinckley's words at the priesthood session of the April 2006 general conference: "Racial strife still lifts its ugly head," President Hinckley said. "I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be ... Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the church of Christ."

McClain says "we have some work to do as a nation" and as a church. "You've had the (priesthood) revelation, President Hinckley has spoken. It will just take time. We need to be more Christ-like; we just need to turn to the Savior and love the gospel. We all have to perfect ourselves."

He believes black Latter-day Saints can affect the way they are perceived. Among his suggestions:
  • Be proactive, not reactive.
  • Serve well and fulfill callings. "As you serve, you're in a position to affect others who may be part of the problem," he said.
  • Be at the table where discussions are being held.
  • Really be part of the church and put your shoulder to the wheel.
  • Be worthy to partake of the blessings of the church.

As more blacks are part of the church, he says, "we're all concerned with eternal salvation and any other differences should be put aside."

McClain loves his current calling as temple sealer, which he has done for almost three years.

"I really, really enjoy it," he said, especially when he is performing a sealing for a young couple starting an eternal family.


  1. lucky for me (biracial) i live in the much more accepting canada
    my family has NEVER experienced problems
    also i really like your blog! ever since my older brother ran off to germany a few years ago, im really interested in what was so apealing to him about it

  2. Thanks for liking my blog. Where in Germany does your brother live? I'd like to visit Canada. Maybe I'll go there some day soon . . .