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BHS Celebrates Loving Day All Year

By Sady Sullivan

Posted on June 9, 2011

Forty-four years ago, interracially married couples faced prosecution and jail time, or violence, if they happened to cross into one of 16 states that prohibited and punished marriages on the basis of racial classifications. Fifty-nine years ago, anti-miscegenation laws were on the books in 30 states. Eighty-one years ago, in 1930, the Hays Code forbade portrayals of interracial romance, curtailing the careers of actors of color like Anna May Wong who could no longer play the romantic leads. In Germany in 1935, The Nuremberg Laws were introduced that prohibited marriage between Jewish Germans and other Germans. The only other nation to legislate against intermarriage was Apartheid South Africa in 1949. While interfaith marriages were not legally proscribed in the U.S., interfaith and interclass marriages often met with opposition from family and community.

From Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (Stanley Kramer, 1967) to Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991), stories about mixed-heritage romance abound in theater, film, literature, cultural criticism, news media, political cartoons, pop culture, humor, and folklore. These stories powerfully address issues about gender, sexuality, class, power, community, nationality, and identity. Despite popular culture’s fascination with this topic, scholars agree that all too rarely do we hear the real stories of mixed-heritage families’ personal experiences, which can add perspective and complexity to historical moments and movements.

Which is why BHS looks forward to collecting life history interviews with mixed-heritage families in Brooklyn and, as CBBG scholarly advisor Suleiman Osman said, “exploring the historically fluid borders, cultural hybridity, and overlapping identities of Brooklyn’s communities.”

Many thanks to the New York Council for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting this project.

And thanks to the Jet Magazine archives via Google Books for the images from 1953!


  • Sady

    Posted on June 22, 2011

    Good point, Steven. I think the reason people commonly summarize the Loving v. Virginia case as legalizing interracial marriage in the US is because the Supreme Court case was based on the 14th Amendment. A triumph of equal protection under the (federal) law! The history of state anti-miscegenation laws is definitely an important part of this story. I'm proud that NY never enacted any -- although that doesn't mean it was always smooth sailing (see Rhinelander Trial). I hope NY will remember that history today and the state senate will vote to legalize same-sex marriage!

  • Steven F. Riley

    Posted on June 18, 2011

    Thanks for the post. I'm looking forward to the project. It looks great! One thing though. "Loving v. Virginia" did NOT legalize interracial marriage in the United States. It legalized interracial marriage in the 15 remaining states (Maryland repealed its law during the case) that still had anti-miscegenation laws. In fact, 10 states (including New York) NEVER enacted any anti-miscegenation laws. See:

  • Sady

    Posted on June 10, 2011

    Thank you, Brenda - great comment to start a dialogue. That's what we're hoping to get an idea of during this planning year: what are the big questions/themes/discussion areas on this topic. I hope to meet you at one of our public forums in the fall! One of my big questions is Who considers their partnership "mixed": race, faith, ethnicity, country of origin, class, political affiliation, neighborhood??

  • Brenda from Flatbush

    Posted on June 10, 2011

    Despite the huge increase in "mixed marriages," this is still a hot-button issue (perhaps, I suspect, even more for communities of color than for "progressive" white folks)--you are courageous to approach it. Spike Lee is a good start, he has always handled this issue with quirky candor.

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