When Kathy Powell told her father she had married, he hung up on
It would be two years before he spoke to her again, and four
before her mother did. In the meantime, Kathy had two children,
missed her grandfather's funeral, and was told to stay away from her
Her parents' problem: Kathy's husband, Howard, is black.
If Kathy's struggle with her family highlights the determined
resistance some families still have to interracial marriage, her
story also shows how attitudes can change, one family at a time.
Today, 11 years later, her parents know and love Howard and spend
time with their two grandchildren.
"I think it's opened their eyes to a lot of things," says Kathy,
who lives with Howard in Attleboro, Mass. "I think [my mother] has
realized we're a typical middle-class couple ... and that the values
they instilled in me are being instilled in our kids as well. That
helped a lot."
Thirty-six years after the Supreme Court struck down laws against
mixed-race marriages and "Star Trek" shocked the nation by airing
the first interracial kiss on national TV, Americans have come a
long way in accepting love across race lines. The number of white-
black marriages, always the smallest subset, has grown from about
50,000 in 1960 to almost 400,000 today.
Marriages across all racial lines have more than doubled in the
last two decades, to about 1.5 million. Even Hollywood, long
reluctant to portray anything approaching interracial romance, has
recently come out with a handful of movies depicting such
But of all the racial barriers in this country, resistance to
interracial relationships remains perhaps the most persistent. Not
until 1967, 13 years after it desegregated America's schools, did
the US Supreme Court strike down the last laws making interracial
marriage a crime. Today, even with steady growth in the number of
interracial unions, they still make up just 2.6 percent of all
marriages. Resistance can come from either family, or both.
"I think it's because it cuts so deep, it's so personal," says
Randall Kennedy, a Harvard law professor whose latest book,
"Interracial Intimacies," was published last week. "What we're
talking about here is something that's so close to our souls and our
hearts.... The whole question of how we define our communities is
thrown up for grabs."
The experiences of the Powells and two other couples who live
near Boston, a city that has struggled with issues of race, say
something about the subtle shifts in society as it wrestles with
When Patti and Matt Keenan were married in 1984, Matt's family
was decidedly chilly about the idea of him marrying a Protestant
black woman. Pattiremembers standing out as the only nonwhite among
300 mostly Irish Catholic guests at the wedding of Matt's older
sister. But when Matt's younger brother married an Indonesian woman
two years ago, the audience, and attitudes in her husband's family,
For Imari and Cynthia Paris Jeffries, married in 2001, questions
of culture and race often blur in a family that counts whites,
blacks, Latinos, and Asians among its ancestors. Imari thinks of
their marriage - she's of Puerto Rican descent, he's the son of a
black father and Korean mother - as intercultural. Cynthia says it's
definitely interracial. Trying to decide the point led to a spirited
debate between the two.
How far we've already come
It's not so long ago that any such debate would have been
inconceivable in many states. When Imari's father was married in the
late 1960s, he couldn't stay in a hotel with his Korean-American
wife when they were traveling through the South.
Back then, even the hint of an interracial relationship could be
dangerous. In 1955, Emmett Till, a black teenager visiting family in
Mississippi, was lynched for whistling at a white woman. …