There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us, somewhere.
There’s a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care.
We’ll find a new way of living,
We’ll find a way of forgiving.
Somewhere . . .”
Recently two friends and I were discussing politics when suddenly it became prudent to change the subject. Somehow we got on music. One person named her favorite Broadway musical and the other followed with hers. It became obvious that it was my turn. I said West Side Story was my favorite musical and added that my favorite song was “Somewhere.” Then I softly said, “Fred and I always looked for a place for us and a time for us, but it never happened.” Moments of silence followed and the subject was changed – again.
I thought about the reality of “somewhere” for a couple of days. Fred was a black man married to a white woman (me) before interracial marriages were common. He died in October, 2020, after a long illness which was aggravated, I am sure, by his 69 years of living in a society in that never accepted him or our marriage. He died before we could find “a place for us” in American society, in our largely segregated state of Michigan (blacks lived in big cities and whites populated the small towns), or even in the Church.
Fred and I met in the late 1980’s. We both had been married before and had children from those marriages. As we talked (and talked and talked), I learned about the personal side of racism and he learned that some white people were genuinely eager to know about the black experience. We talked about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and the ignorance of the comment “I don’t see race” often proudly stated by whites, not realizing that if they didn’t “see” race, they didn’t “see” Fred.
As we began our journey together in a racist society, Fred was very apprehensive. I was full of optimistic dreams. Reality dawned on our wedding day, August 17, 1991. The pastor, a good friend of ours, was beginning with the vows when suddenly my mother stood up and shouted, “How can you do this to me?” and ran from the room sobbing. The audience drew a collective huge breaths. The pastor and Fred both looked at me, and I calmly (somehow) said, “Go ahead with the vows.” Soon we were officially a couple, but reality hit us both hard.
Looking for a home together was the next jarring experience. We lived near Flint. We soon learned that if we saw an ad located in the city of Flint, Fred had to inquire about it. If we learned of a home in the Flint suburbs or another town, I had to check it out. We learned this because we each found a possibility for housing and went together to check it out. In both cases when the landlord saw a “mixed” couple standing at his door, suddenly the apartment that was available a few hours ago had just been rented.
I eventually found a nice house to rent in a small town near Flint. I signed the papers and wrote the check, and Fred and I happily moved in. You should have see the look on the home owner’s face when he saw my husband for the first time. Eventually he and his wife divorced and we were forced to leave the home because she wanted to live there. We eventually had to purchase a mobile home in a small town outside of Flint – which we really couldn’t afford. This way nobody saw us until the house was moved on to the lot. After the truck left we drove in the driveway. It was, once again, too late for the shocked manager to do anything about it.
At that time I was the director of an adult literacy program and Fred was attending computer school. He had also convinced me to get a computer for our literacy program so he could teach my students about computers. Our office was in the basement of the County Library which was on the same property as the County Jail. One day Fred was leaving my office in the evening after backing up the computer when he was accosted by a policeman. He stopped Fred and asked, “Where do you belong?”
“I belong right here. I work at the literacy center,” Fred politely responded.
The cop looked skeptical. “You know how to use a computer????? he said. Fred said, “Yes,” and started walking again. The cop reluctantly let him go.
Eventually we moved, mobile home and all, to a small town in West Michigan. It was a return to my home town, but Fred had never lived outside of the Flint/Saginaw area, and he was pretty worried. I now understood the issues we were facing, but I couldn’t wait to take him to the church I had attended before moving to the Flint area. We were just leaving the service, when a woman came up to him and said, “You must attend the seminary in town, right? Fred looked at me, puzzled. (I learned later that he didn’t even know what a seminary was.)
Finally, he said, “No.” Then the woman said, “Well, you must be from Africa. Why are you at our church if you aren’t attending the seminary?” We just looked at each other and were spared from answering by a friendly greeting from an older man. He welcomed us and then said to Fred, “We have a second service. Lots of people from the neighborhood come. I’m sure you would be more comfortable there.”
Fred looked at me. Then he said, “I attend the first service with my wife. I like that one.” The man’s jaw dropped. “You two are married!?” he asked. His wife pulled his arm and they quickly walked away. Fred did not return to church.
He did, however, join a church group on a mission trip to South Africa. He had been told that one task was to build a computer lab, and, since he was now a computer network administrator, he was excited to work on that project. However, when the group arrived in South Africa, he was told that a high school senior who knew about computers would work on the computer lab and that Fred was to join the work of building coffins. He told the project manager that he worked on computer projects everyday, but knew nothing about building. That made no difference. On the day before the group was to return home, Fred learned that the high school senior did not know how to finish the project. Did Fred really know enough to help? He said he did and he would. He stayed up all night to finish the task, almost missing the plane home, but never was thanked for his contribution.
Our life together was difficult and challenging, but the rewards were great. Although, like Tony and Maria, the mismatched couple in West Side story, we never found the “someday” or the “some place” or the “sometime” when life together was easy and uncomplicated, we learned a lot about each other and our respective cultures and loved our way through life in a world that would rather not even look at us, let alone help us find our place together. I pray that the mixed race marriages of today have an easier time.
Thank you, how can I share this?