This story is part two of a special three-part series on interracial marriage. It was produced in collaboration with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.
Winston Cox and Trudy Kofford were married late on a February afternoon in 1966. She was 22-years-old, a green-eyed dreamer fresh from the hills of Oregon. He was 29, an ambitious doctoral candidate from Jamaica, with a wiry build.
Trudy, who is white, wore a wool dress with a rounded straw hat in honor of her mother, one of a tiny number of family members present for the couple that day. Her father had vowed to disown her if she married Cox, a black man. Minutes before the ceremony began, Trudy's mother leaned over and whispered in Winston's ear.
“The mother, she said, 'Listen, if her daddy ever sees you he'll kill you,’” Winston recalled. “She was very angry when she met me.”
Such opposition to interracial marriage was not uncommon back when Winston and Trudy took the bold step of marrying across racial lines, one year before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision — Loving v. Virginia — that struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Fifty years later, some things have decidedly changed while others have definitely not.
One thing is clear: Interracial marriage is far more common. Today, one out of six new marriages in the U.S. are between people of different races or ethnicities, according to the latest number released by the Pew Research Center. That's a fivefold increase. Our story looks at two marriages before and after the Loving decision that followed very different paths.
Trudy and Winston had met several years earlier at the University of Oregon where Winston was a teaching assistant in American politics and she was his student. Often she would follow him out of the classroom and down the hall to his small office in the economics department where they would launched into discussions of the politics of the day.
Trudy was attracted to Winston from the day she met him.
“He had dark skin...his skin was like hills, if you had hills and valleys. It was different colors. So the elevated parts were sometimes lighter colored than the underneath parts,” recalled Trudy. “He was very beautiful.”
Winston and Trudy are an extraordinary window on interracial marriage because at the time they met, neither of them had virtually any experience with the other's race. But during five years of marriage, race blew like a powerful wind upon them.
Although Trudy has some Native-American blood, she had never met a black person growing up in Joseph, Oregon. In a way, Winston was just as naïve. He had grown up in Jamaica at a time of political upheaval, but had little racial awareness. There just weren't many white people around during his childhood.
Still, though, they got married in 1966, one year before the Loving court decision would strike down laws nationwide prohibiting marriage between races. The ceremony was held in a mission in San Luis Obispo, Calif., where Winston had attended college. (California legalized interracial marriage in 1948.) Although they had many differences stemming from their upbringing, they shared a passion for social justice.
“We were Communists together,” said Trudy. “We were political. We studied Mao, and the Chinese Revolution.”
So much so, that when they had their second child in 1970 they called her Fanshen. It's a Chinese word that means turning over. But it didn't take long for race to come between them. By the time Fanshen was born, Winston had been kicked out of restaurants, barred from bathrooms and humiliated. As the politics of the decade grew more extreme, he grew an Afro and turned to the Black Panthers.
“I was around black people who were very, very radical in their blackness. She thought I was drifting,” said Winston. “In her mind, I'm drifting away from her because she's white.”
She was right. And in time, she started drifting, too. First she turned to the women's movement, and then she had an affair with a woman. By then, years after Trudy's mother had come around to believe in the marriage, Trudy and Winston no longer did. After five years, the marriage was over.
Now 74, a retired midwife, Trudy lives in an independent living facility in Boston and struggles with health issues. Winston, who is 80, lives in Washington D.C., with his third wife and works for the EPA. Not surprisingly, they differ on what brought their marriage to an end. Their daughter, Fanshen, who is now 47, thinks race was always at the core of their relationship, not just at the end but also the beginning.
“I've waited my whole life for them to say, ‘Okay, I'll admit it. It's because he was black, and I wanted to be with a black man.’ Or dad, ‘I'll admit it, it was a good thing for me to get together with a white woman,’” said Fanshen. “I guess I want to believe that anybody with hindsight and reflection on it would say, ‘Yeah, you know what, that was an element of why I fell in love.’”
Fifty years later, interracial marriage is much more common. In fact, while there's not a lot of research on interracial marriage, one study done in 2008 found that marriages of black women and white men had a much greater likelihood of lasting than other marriages.
Rayna Clay and Dominic Mackay are one of those couples. They've been married for six years and are going strong. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Dominic was sitting in his Scituate kitchen with three of his five children talking about a recent visit the family made to Disney World. It may be 2017, but people still look at them with curiosity.
“What they're looking at is they're seeing a white father, two white children and then a black mother and three mixed children,” said Dominic. “I think what they're figuring out is like, ‘Okay, how did this happen?’"
It happened when the couple met at a party eight years ago. She was 32, an anesthesiologist from California. He was 33, a divorced father of two and a solar energy consultant from Scotland. On their first date he drove her to La Salette, a spiritual shrine in Attleboro, because she loved Christmas lights.
They married in early 2011, once in Salt Lake City and once in Pitlochry, Scotland, so that both of their families could attend. Dominic wore his kilt. Race relations were certainly better than when Trudy and Winston got married in the 1960s, a period of political upheaval. Rayna and Dominic also had had a lot of contact with people of different races. And none of their parents objected.
“It never was a question because to me, it doesn't make any difference,” said Rayna's mother, Pamela McCoy.
As much as the world has changed, Rayna and Dominic found that race does still make a difference. Once when they were visiting the Children's Museum in Boston, Rayna noticed a group of black women staring at her disapprovingly. Rayna stared back at one of them.
“I just locked eyes with her,” recalled Rayna. “She just said, 'You're with him? Huh.' I just said ‘yes’ and walked on because I was not going to make any sort of confrontation at a children's museum.”
It happens other places as well. Rayna says that every time she walks into a high-end store by herself, a security guard follows her, but not when she's with her husband. And then there are the restaurants.
“As a mixed race family, going out to restaurants, I just feel it's too uncomfortable.” said Dominic. “I feel like we become the center of the restaurant ... As soon as you walk in you feel the eyes on you. I try just not to acknowledge it, but it's almost as if you can just feel it.”
“It's palpable,” added Rayna. And it's so strange, and sometimes I say to myself, you're just being paranoid right now, Rayna. But it's not, because you see the hostess or the host looking at you and kind of sizing you up.”
About three years ago, Rayna found out she was pregnant with twins. When she learned that one of them was a boy, she asked not to be told if the second child was a boy also.
“I was afraid of having black boys,” Rayna said. “I was afraid in this era of tension that we have of having black boys and what that means. Are my children going to be shot when they are walking through their neighborhood with their hoodie up and their earphones in, buying candy? Are they going to be shot when they are pulled over on the side of the road trying to change a tire, and they just happened to not put their hands up quick enough for a police office, or too fast? I was scared to death.”
Then something happened that gave her more reason to worry. Her twin boys were born premature at 30 weeks. A social worker warned Rayna that preemies could be very hard on a marriage. But Rayna and Dominic have experienced just the opposite.
“What I found was that we are actually better in crisis then almost anything else,” said Rayna. “We are really, really good together in crisis.”
Added Dominic, “For us, I think it's just ... we find a way to make it work.”
Next month, they're taking on the next big thing together. They're moving to Tampa partly because of the lower cost of living and partly because of job opportunities. They spent some time looking into the community and made sure it offered a genuine diversity.
As they head into the next chapter of their lives, Rayna has words for others heading into an interracial marriage.
“Go for it,” she said. “More power to you. It's happening whether you like it or not. I think that that is a great thing. Even though we are not in a post-racial society yet, there's hope for one. There really is.”