This June will mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated laws prohibiting “miscegenation,” or interracial marriage. These days, it may be fairly common for people of different races and ethnicities to find love and happiness with each other, but for folks of an older generation, it wasn’t always so accepted. Even Minnesota, which never had anti-miscegenation laws, has presented its own challenges for couples who wanted nothing more than to make a life together.
Here are several Minnesota couples who have shared their honest stories of loving and difference — and how things have or have not changed for them over the years.
Lisa and Aaron Bonds
Before Aaron Bonds met his future wife Lisa, he knew all too well some of the difficulties for him that come along with dating, or even being friends with, white women. As a teenager in the 1960s in Washington, D.C., he ran into resistance when he would try to interact with people his age who were white. “I remember a young lady — we liked each other,” Aaron recalled. “Her father came to pick her up, and he did not like [it]. He did not say anything to me, but he’s got that look.”
Another time, Bonds went with his cousin to visit a white girl he was dating, who got in their car. “Next thing we know, here comes mom and dad on both sides of the car, trying to open the door. They tried to pull her out of the car,” Aaron said.
“People are taught this nasty stuff about race. It’s not something you are born with. Somebody has to teach you that.”
Lisa and Aaron started seeing each other in 1998, when Aaron was working at a dive bar in D.C. Her boss at the time said to her, “ ‘Wow, Lisa, the fact that you would consider dating a black man who doesn’t have a college degree — you’re really out there,’ ” Lisa said.
Lisa, 51, and Aaron, 67, later became active in the cause of marriage equality, both in Washington and Minnesota, where they moved in 2007. During a rally to oppose the same-sex marriage ban, they held a sign: “50 years ago our marriage was illegal. Vote no!” Local DJ Tony Fly posted a photo on Facebook, and it went viral.
“You never know who you are going to fall in love with,” Aaron said. “You can’t predict it. So people need to open up their heads.”
Celeste Pulju Grant and David Lawrence Grant
Celeste Pulju was living in a communal house in south Minneapolis when she met David Lawrence Grant in 1972. David was helping out at a sober house. “The guys had to cook themselves, so it was not good,” Celeste said. “So a [mutual] friend said, ‘I know where we can eat better than this.’ He brought David to our house before we connected up.”
Some of Celeste’s family and friends were not happy about their decision to get married. “I remember people making odd comments and thinking, ‘That’s really a strange thing to say,’ ’’ Celeste said. She had uncles who were vocal about their disapproval, and some of her family didn’t come to the wedding.
Actually meeting David’s family helped ease some of the tension. “I come from a very poor working-class family,” said Celeste, 64. “David’s family is very middle-class, maybe even upper-middle-class, and very well educated. As soon as my parents figured that out, they had to switch their head around, and they fell in love with his family.”
Being the wife of a black man and eventually a mother of black children, Celeste says, she had to develop a kind of peripheral vision. “People of color grow up with radar,” said David, 65. “You see things out of the corner of your eye that mark danger for you. You hear things at the periphery of what’s in earshot, so you can make whatever defensive moves you have to.”
Once they were driven off the road by a car full of white men. “They saw who was in the car and they sped up, came beside us and literally muscled us off the freeway into the median,” David said.
But the couple never let these dangers stop them from living their lives as they wished. Traveling across the country, they have met people who, anticipating their family might run into trouble, have gone out of their way to give them “a bubble of peace,” David said.
Sharon and Mary Ann Goens-Bradley
Sharon and Mary Ann Goens-Bradley had to fight for acceptance in their relationship on two fronts, both because they are of different races (Sharon, 56, is black and Mary Ann, 58, is white), and also because they are a same-sex couple.
They met at work. What started as a flirtatious note Sharon wrote while sitting in Mary Ann’s cubicle flourished into the two of them writing to each other constantly, until they finally decided to meet outside of their jobs. “We spent hours together. We didn’t want to leave each other,” Mary Ann said. “We got together again within a week, and within about two weeks after that, I asked her to marry me.”
Out in public, especially early on, they were invisible as a couple. “Most servers wouldn’t even know that we were a couple,” Mary Ann said. “But there were times when we would go out to eat, and people would not acknowledge Sharon. Things shifted when they adopted their daughter, who is African-American. They’d often get stares, and once a woman approached Mary Ann in the grocery store and asked “How much did she cost?” Mary Ann said.
Throughout their relationship, “finding friends as a couple is difficult,” Mary Ann said. That’s in part, they say, because so many of the white people in their community “think that they have nothing more to learn about racism.” Meanwhile, much of Sharon’s social circle has been women-of-color-only groups. “In some ways things have gotten more segregated,” Sharon said. “Minnesota is such a subtly racist place that people of color often feel under assault, so we like to be together and talk about how things are impacting us. Sometimes I wish that [race] wasn’t such a factor that had to polarize people.”
Peggie and Richard Carlson
Peggie and Richard Carlson were co-workers at Minnegasco when they met over 40 years ago. Peggie was one the first female workers at the natural gas company, and an African-American woman at that. Richard, who is white, says he first learned of her existence because of an incident of sexual harassment Peggie experienced on the job.
“Some old bastard was in there chasing her around the locker room,” Carlson said. “I was embarrassed. I made friends with her because I didn’t want her to think we were all like that.”
Their relationship was such an anomaly (they were married in 1977) that they were asked to be on the “Today” show a couple of years into their marriage. “We were kind of a rarity,” Richard says.
They announced their wedding in the St. Paul newspaper along with their address, which was customary at the time. “We got several very ugly commentaries about our marriage,” Peggie said. One of the letter writers apparently sent similar missives to others as well, and he eventually was caught by law enforcement.
“We didn’t set out to model anything,” Richard says. “But whether we set out to or not, we did model some stuff. We’ve been modeling it for 40 years.”
KaiMay Yuen Terry and Joseph Terry
Joseph Terry was an interning resident at Tufts Medical Center in Boston when he saw his future wife, KaiMay, across the crowded cafeteria. “She was wearing a knit dress with horizontal stripes. She had her hair in a French twist in the back,” Joseph said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get to know her!’ ”
It took him a year to build up the courage to talk to her, but she turned him down because she was dating someone else. Joseph was about to leave for Georgetown University for further training. A year later, they met again when he was visiting his sister in Boston. “This time she wasn’t with Mr. Wrong and I became Mr. Right,” Joseph said.
KaiMay had come to the United States from Hong Kong at the age of 18. “It took me a long time to grow comfortable about growing old here and dying here,” she said.
“I was betwixt and between,” KaiMay said. She didn’t want to go back to China with its old Eastern traditions, because she was having fun being free and independent, but she also had to get used to the idea of marrying someone who was not Chinese.
KaiMay was in her 30s by the time she met Joseph, working as the head of social service at the medical center. Her parents were ecstatic that she finally was getting married, and to a doctor at that.
“Joseph is five years younger, so there. That’s women’s lib for you. … I was a feminist before my time,” said KaiMay, now 77.
When Joseph finished his medical training, they chose to move to Minnesota, in part because they believed it would be the most welcoming of their options as an interracial couple. “I thought Minnesota would be a good place to live and have a family,” Joseph said, “and where your race would matter far less here than other parts of the country.”
Lindsay Nielsen and Jeffrey Hunsberger
Lindsay Nielsen and Jeffrey Hunsberger’s interracial marriage in 1976 wasn’t quite as rare as Hunsberger’s parents’ marriage had been, 30 years earlier. Hunsberger’s parents had been living in Montana, which had an anti-miscegenation law, and had to travel to Canada to get married. They promised the clerk they wouldn’t have children.
Nielsen was shocked, when she first started to get to know Hunsberger’s family, by how much they talked about race. When she commented about this to Hunsberger’s father, he replied that it was because “race impacts us every single day,” Nielsen said.
Over the years, race, and also gender, have been topics their family has talked about often. “I’ve always felt like we have kind of a deal,” Nielsen said. “Jeff says something about racism, I need to listen, even if that’s not my experience or understanding of it, and even if I disagree with him. … And I feel like he’s given me that about gender.”
In addition to one son that Nielsen had with a previous father, the couple had two more sons: one with darker skin like Hunsberger, and one with blond hair and blue eyes. Early in their marriage, they moved to a new house in south Minneapolis, and as soon as they moved in, the house across the street went up for sale.
“My reaction was, ‘Good, I hope somebody with kids moves in,’ ” said Nielsen, 61. “Jeff comes home and says, ‘Oh, I wonder if that’s because we moved in.’ ” Their son who had darker skin had a similar reaction to his dad.
“We experience the world differently,” said Hunsberger, 60. “We recognize that about each other, and are willing to listen to one another.”
Art Serotoff and Sandra Richardson
Sandra Richardson didn’t realize it was a date when she accidentally stood up Art Serotoff 20 years ago. They had met at an “Undoing Racism” conference in New Orleans, and were both part of a work group to expand the program in Minnesota.
“I didn’t know he was trying to date me,” Richardson said. When they met again at their next anti-racism meeting, Serotoff asked if they could reschedule. He offered to make her dinner, and that got her attention. “I said, ‘Oh, a cooking man,’ ” she said.
Growing up in New York, Serotoff had been active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, but his whole world changed when he first did anti-racism training in 1989. As part of the Minneapolis nonprofit community, Serotoff became committed to use his role to push back against systemic racism.
When they started their relationship, Richardson made clear to Serotoff that he needed to be comfortable in her community. “I said, ‘If you can’t be alone in a room full of black people, don’t come. I can’t hold your hand and lead you through a cultural experience,’ ” she said.
Serotoff, for his part, stepped up to the plate, but he never tried to adopt a persona. Being Jewish, he raised his two adopted Korean sons in the Jewish tradition, and continued to have white friends and family.
“Early on we had a conversation,” Serotoff said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to come over and be a part of your world and abandon my culture, my friends, and myself. That wasn’t going to be happening here. I feel fortunate that her family has accepted me. That’s a powerful thing.’ ”
Throughout their relationship, they’ve both maintained their commitment to social justice. “We both want to see things become more human,” Serotoff said. “To me it’s about becoming more human.”
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based arts writer.