Soledad O’Brien On Her Parents' Struggles as an Interracial Couple: "People Spit on Them in the Street"
On the eve of 'Loving,' a film about the outlawed marriage between a black woman and a white man in 1958 Virginia, the journalist discusses the hostility endured by her Afro-Cuban mother and Irish-Australian father.
My dad is Irish-Australian, my mom Afro-Cuban, and they got married in 1958. There was lots of overt hostility, to the point where they couldn't get served in restaurants together. People were intentional about keeping interracial couples apart.
My older sisters were born in Maryland, which, like Virginia, was under an anti-miscegenation law, and my mom told me people would spit on them as they walked down the street. Even when my family moved to New York, where I was born, it was hard to get housing. But my parents never talked about that while we grew up. They didn't want that to frame how we thought about our community. They were quiet activists but felt they were on the right side of history.
My dad told me they had been asked by the ACLU to be a couple that would test the ban on interracial marriage. They turned it down because my dad was working on his Ph.D., and he didn't want to get distracted. He always used to say, "You wouldn't have been born if we had gotten involved in a big legal case."
I'm hoping I'll get to watch the movie with my dad, and he'll spill more about that time because, for both of my parents — they will celebrate their 58th wedding anniversary in December — the past is the past. They're not big sharers.
"Let's embrace what America is today. Let's move forward." That always has been their mind-set.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.