It's Never Too Late For Racial Unity In Your Family

When my black mother and white father got married in 1969, interracial marriage had only been legal for two years. But just because it was legal, that didn't mean their families were happy about it.

My mother's family left Georgia in the early 1900's due to some white men having gone on a "let's kill the black folks" rampage.

Why did this happen? Well, a black man in the town had been having a relationship with a white woman. All the black people knew but kept things quiet. However, when white folks found out, the white woman claimed, as was often claimed in such instances, that she was raped by the black man.

The black man and his brother were both murdered, and their castrated, naked bodies were dragged behind horses down the road. Then the white men decided to teach the rest of the black people a lesson by setting fire to the black owned houses and barns. My grandmother and her family hid in the swamps, and then left the town.

One generation after this horrifying (and all too common) incident, my mother announced that she was going to marry a white man. You can imagine this information didn't go over too well since their family history had shown that having relationships with white people is dangerous and results in being murdered. But, after much family discussion, her parents eventually accepted that my father was a good man and they came to the wedding.

Unfortunately, my dad's parents did not accept their marriage, did not attend the wedding, cut off most contact with my father, and for many many years, that was that. They also told my aunt and uncle that if they attended the wedding or associated with my parents, they would cut them off.

Needless to say, the legacy of those actions, knowing that even when my father's mother died we were not welcome at her funeral, has been an incredibly painful part of my family's history.

But the wonderful thing is that families and people can change. There is no need to blindly imitate the racist or prejudiced traditions of the past. And there is always the chance to apologize, make amends and build something new.

Yesterday my father's sister, brother and my uncle's two children came over to my parent's house to visit with all of us. My mom's sister also came, as well as my own sister and my two nephews. A few minutes after they arrived, my uncle pulled me aside and asked me if it was my parent's anniversary coming up in a few weeks. I told him that it was and he smiled and said, "Good, because I have a little card for them."

He went on to say that their family had given my parents such a hard time all those years ago, and even if it didn't make up for it, he just wanted to apologize for it. And then he got choked up... and so did I.

A few hours later he gave the card to my parents and apologized for the family's racist treatment of them. It was one of the most touching things I've witnessed in my lifetime.
It made me reflect on how incredibly important it is to apologize for the wrongs that have been committed because of racism. It's also so important to forgive. If you can't apologize or forgive, you can't move forward. When I saw my mom hug my dad's sister and brother with complete forgiveness, well, my liquid eyeliner ended up on my cheeks. In that moment, it felt like I could see healing taking place on the faces of my mom, my dad, my uncle and my aunt.

It is undeniably sad that my paternal grandparents and so many other relatives missed out on so much because of racism. They never truly got to know my mom. And they never got to know me.

Yes, my cousins, nephews and my own sons are growing up knowing that having people of all colors and cultures in your family is normal. But the really wonderful thing is that the chance for unity doesn't stop just because you're older. My dad, his brother and sister, and my mom and her sister can all forge relationships beyond what their parents ever believed or thought possible between black and white people. They're all proof that it's never too late for racial unity in your family.


Liz Dwyer said…
Me too!
pooneh said… amazing.
Julie said…
So nice for all of you. Thanks for sharing your story! (And thanks, Carleen, for sending your readers this way!)
Wow LIz I'm gonna cry right now....
Liz Dwyer said…
It really, REALLY is! :)

Yes, it's very nice. I'm glad to share something positive regarding race in this country. And let me echo you, Carleen, thanks for sending folks this way!

Everytime I reread this, I cry.
alyosha19 said…
Never too late...
Remnants of U said…
Aunts, uncles, cousins, sister & brothers reuniting, how exciting. And great pictures.
Anne said…
Beautiful story!!! Thanks so much for sharing this!
Lotus Flower said…
Whoa. It's wonderful to see family forgive and let live. That takes a lot of courage to do what your uncle did. I couldn't imagine being cut off from half of my family. Especially over something that trivial. I know people who have been shunned from their own families just by marrying someone of a different shade. Sad, I know.

Those are some memorable pictures.
Lotus Flower said…
I loved reading your story, by the way.
Liz Dwyer said…
No, never too late till your last breath.

Oh yes! My sons were positively thrilled to meet more relatives.

Thanks for reading it. I imagine that in the future when interracial marriage is not even blinked twice at, these sorts of stories will be an interesting reflection on our nation's past.

I got a little camera happy yesterday. I took almost 400 pictures. What's even sadder is that some people go to their grave and never say sorry, and never ever forgive.
Jameil said…
That's amazing, Liz. Thanks for sharing.
Liz Dwyer said…
I try to keep stuff about my family under wraps for the most part, but this is something I am more than happy to share. :)
Nina Moon said…
What a wonderful, beautiful thing. I'm so glad for your family. It makes me wonder if that sort of authentic apologies and forgiveness happened in the public sphere, what kind of healing would result.
Pedraum said…
Wonderful story, thanks for sharing it.
Liz Dwyer said…
I wonder that, too. I think a whole lot of healing would take place and we'd be a whole lot further along the road to racial reconciliation than we are right now.

Thanks for coming by and reading it. :)
nick said…
A very moving story, Liz. How wonderful that, as you say, people can move forward and forgive and put a less enlightened past behind them. Great that you are all getting so close to each other at last.
Thanks Liz for sharing your family's story.

Very moving and powerful. I agree that if we had more open honesty in the public sphere we would be further along as a nation.
Liz Dwyer said…
Yes, hopefully we all still have a great many years left on this earth and can make the spirit expressed on this day more than a one-time thing. I truly hope so.

Glad to share. Plus, I know there are so many other families with similar circumstances, or with other kinds of hurts/issues. It's always better to come together instead of holding on to whatever it is that caused the hurt in the first place.
Mocha said…
This is pretty close to home for me and you dredged up some strong feelings. I'm really happy for your family's healing. May it continue until there's no hurt at all.

(Ok. This is kinda funny. But the word verification is "rednes". I'm not kidding.)
KBO said…
Amen. Thanks for sharing.
Rosita said…
Thank you for sharing.
Unknown said…
I was fortuneate that my IMMEDIATE white family was very accepting of us. Now some of the distant relatives were not so forgiving, my mom married a black man and her male cousin married a mexican. So the family got to dispurse the hatred evenly. We were not exposed to much of it thank goodness. Glad to see that we can still believe in forgiveness.
Renee said…
It's amazing what forgiveness can do. Beautiful story.
Daniel said…
Los Angelista,
Hummm … whata think I’m gonna say, lol?
I’m lucky that I don’t wear water-proof eye-liner or mascara to work (well, not anywhere, for that matter, lol). Because it would have been on my cheeks too, after reading this.
As you’d guess I could self-associate with so much of it. Not as you, the child, but your parents. For me though, some things aren’t healed.
I also just stared at the wonderful picture of your beautiful parents, and, and longed for the fact I wish that could have been us. That for as much as I tried, that it was not in pieces now, but together, like your folks. To both live it and leave for my own children and family, as a wonderful legacy of permanence and commitment. Eyes really ran on that set of thoughts.
Yes, there is such power in sincerely addressing the past. No, things can’t be changed. But it sure can make for the possibility of really healing things. Without that, the injured parties can only just move on (at best), but nothing “complete”. It’s why it’s never surprised me that the biblical concepts of forgiveness are completely dependant on repentance; that someone (finally) realizes what’s been done. Otherwise, what is there to forgive? They don’t care! That’s why no repentance! And that reminded me of one of my biggest hurts. For my beloved children. That their mother has never, ever, said she was sorry to them, that she’d even consider how much hurt and pain she caused them. That she’d attempt to redress anything. I hurt for them. So I cried some more. What a wuss, huh? Lol!
Thank you so much for sharing this. That it does happen. It has meant more to me today than you’d ever guess. Thank you again, in sincerity.
Jen said…
How completely wonderful. Beautiful post, and what a treasure that photo is - for all of you now and for all of you in the future.
Anonymous said…
This was bittersweet and uplifting and beautiful...all at once.

I read it and it made me feel good about progress. I even read it to my German (as in born and raised in West Germany) guyfriend...he was moved, as well. He's always fascinated with "race relations" in the US. Thanks for sharing this.
Ingrid said…
simply beautiful.
Liz Dwyer said…
Wowzer, love the word verification!!!

I know how common these sorts of things are in families so I certainly hope for you as well that healing somehow can happen. Hugs.

KBO & Rosita
You are very welcome.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I think parents raised in a certain generation think they're failures if their child marries someone from a different background. I always pray for my dad's parents because I know they did the best they could with what they knew. I wish it had been different, but it is what it is.

Forgiveness is really such a wonderful thing. Love your blogging handle by the way!

I definitely thought about you a couple times while writing this. I wish you could've taken a picture like the one of my parents. I don't know all the particulars of your situation, but I know you have been hurt deeply and are doing the best you can for your children. So keep doing that, no matter what. Keep turning all that emotion and hurt into positive things for you and your kids. And no worries about crying. I cried too!

It is SO wonderful. And I'm so glad I went a little camera happy while they were here. The memories captured are beautiful.

Glad to share with you and yours. I really believe race unity starts with each individual's heart. So even if your guyfriend isn't American, he can do lots to contribute to unity. :)

It sure is. It's made me sooo happy!
This is super. The power of real life in-your-face forgiveness at work. Bless God.
Sundry said…
Crying again, reading the whole amazing story. Thanks so much.
Pretty amazing story. Multiracial families have much to teach all of us about both the problems and possibilities of race in America. Their stories in all their complexity need to be told. Thanks for doing that.

This is beautiful. Since childhood I have felt deeply the pain and unfairness of racism, and that part of my life's mission was to help alleviate it in some way.

Your family is indeed proof that what really matters in human relationships is love. The rest of it is just details.

I am also most indignant about Professor Gates' unwarranted and appalling arrest, but by his forgiveness he is simply proving his moral superiority to anyone who would endorse such a hateful situation in the first place. If he is at peace with his decision, who am I to criticize?
Michele said…
I'm at a loss for words after reading this post. The only thing that comes to mind is: Powerful. Thank you for sharing your family's experience.
Shiona said…
What a moving account. It doesn't seem so hard. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!
Lisa Johnson said…
Talk about showing what love and forgiveness can do! This is truly a beautiful family story and a piece of American History in action.
Liz Dwyer said…
I definitely think my family has been blessed. For sure.

A week later and I STILL can't think about it without crying.

You are very welcome. I am sure you two have your own stories as well.

What happened with my family will never cease to amaze me.

The Gates situation just gets more incredible. The police officer really lost his cool -- and even if Gates lost HIS cool, too, who says he has to keep it? The belief that a black man needs to be deferential to everybody makes him being outraged an arrestable offense.

Thanks for reading. It was quite a powerful experience. Quite so.

No, it doesn't seem so hard, but the reality is that it is VERY hard for people to let go of the past, to be loving and to be forgiving.

Yes, this story really is American History and it's just so wonderful to have experienced it.
Angie said…
Liz this was truly wonderful!. Such a beautiful family! :D Sorry for commenting months after you posted but I just saw the link in you '09 recap.

When my husband and I started seriously dating (25 years ago this coming February 7) we dealt with much of the same silliness from my family. Mum and my sisters and brother all learned how awesome my hubby is in a short time, but my step-father wouldn't so much as speak to him or acknowledge his presence for 10 wasted years. Not that his opinion mattered much to me due to a rather rocky history, but still it made family get-togethers needlessly unpleasant. It took our son being born to enact a change in him. First time I heard him call our son, "Junior" in his Glasgow Scots brogue I nearly cried (and at the same time laughed because he sounds just like Sean Connery saying it in Indian Jones & The Last Crusade :p)

Thank you so much for sharing such a lovely story. I hope your year to come is even more fabulous!

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