Miscegenation Colorado Style
The movie, Loving, will open at Kimball’s Theater in downtown Colorado Springs on November 23, 2016. The film follows the courtship and marriage of Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. They are arrested and sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 because their interracial marriage violates the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. Exiled to Washington, D.C., they sue the state of Virginia in a series of proceedings leading to the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia, which holds that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.
The actual wording of the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in the case Loving vs. The State of Virginia from Chief Justice Earl Warren went like this:
“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival. . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
This ruling overturned the last of the anti-miscegenation laws that made it a crime for blacks and whites to marry each other. Just five years later, I was making plans to commit the former felony. I was thankful that the Fourteenth Amendment outlawed anything that would keep Ollie and me apart.
But I still had my own local prohibition to deal with. The Colorado Springs School District that Ollie and I both worked for, had a regulation forbidding married couples to teach at the same school.
Ollie was the revered physical education teacher and coach. Recently hired to teach third grade, I was the new kid on the block, so it was pretty obvious who’d have to leave. I loved the kids at Helen Hunt with all my heart and couldn’t bear the thought of a forced transfer.
What could we do? It was apparent that the situation demanded sneaky and devious behavior. Out and out lying might be necessary.
Ollie, easy going, and confident that whatever happened it all would work out, humored my need for drama. I laid out the plan. We’d chosen the last weekend in September for our elopement. I’d always wanted to get married in romantic Santa Fe. An added plus to this choice was that Colorado had repealed their anti-miscegenation laws in 1957, fifteen years before, but New Mexico had repealed their laws in 1857, 115 years before. I liked that extra hundred-year cushion.
We planned to have the ceremony in the outdoor courtyard of the Santa Fe County Courthouse, so that meant we’d have to leave Thursday to get there on a working day.
I thought it would be too suspicious if we both took sick days on Friday.
With all the Agatha Christie novels I’d read as inspiration, I told Ollie to apply for a personal leave day three weeks ahead. This gave him ample time to casually mention in the teacher’s lounge the nonexistent soccer workshop he would be attending in Denver.
Would I then just call in sick? No! Dame Agatha would never approve of such wimpy behavior.
I got up Thursday morning, and added to the regular contents of my purse, a small glass jar containing two unbeaten raw eggs.
Getting to school at my regular time, I joined the coffee drinkers in the lounge. Mentioning Ollie’s absence due to the soccer workshop might be too risky. I kept mum on that subject, but did tell them I wasn’t feeling well. A murmur of concern arose, and I seized the moment to say, “Gosh, I feel sick to my stomach.” I stood up as I said it and made a hurried exit to the thin-walled, next-door bathroom.
Inside I quickly unscrewed the lid of the jar and downed about half of the contents. I gagged, immediately threw up the raw eggs, stuck the remaining evidence back in my purse, and emerged white and shaky.
I returned to the shocked faces of teachers whose nurturing instincts had now kicked in, full force.
“Lucy, you look terrible, you better go home.”
“I’ll tell the principal. You just go straight to your car.”
“Would you? That would be great. “Oh wait, I better check that my lesson plans are O.K.” (I knew they were since I’d written two days worth in minute detail the night before). But now firmly lodged in the web of duplicity, this slight fabrication of needing to stop by my room, was a breeze.
I drove to our apartment singing along to the radio. “Ollie and I are getting married!” was the rich counterpoint to the music.
I ran from the apartment parking lot and rushed inside. Ollie, surrounded by packed suitcases, sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee.
“How did it go?” he asked, grinning.
“I have to call Mr. Blakeney.”
We exchanged conspiratorial glances as I dialed the number and the secretary transferred me to the principal. I had to stop looking at Ollie, afraid that the happiness flowing between us might show up in my voice, and be inconsistent with my role as sickly vomiter.
“I guess you heard I left school sick.” I told my boss. I gave a final spin to the lie. “You know, it’s really turning into a 24-hour bug. I think I better take tomorrow off, too.”
“You do that, Lucy,” he responded kindly. “Just get better. We’ll see you on Monday.”
I hung up the phone and rushed to Ollie’s embrace for a big “Here-Comes-the Bride” kiss.
And so we did it—packed the suitcases in the Mustang, headed south, and miscegenated for all the world to see.
Still, we couldn’t let anyone at school know, since I didn’t want to be transferred. We drove to work separately, and ignored each other more than we ever had before. But only three months later, we were outed when the bank called our principal to check on our home loan application.
Everyone forgave us for the deception. The staff threw a housewarming party to honor us when we moved into our new home. I was officially acknowledged as Mrs. Bell, and received permission to finish the school year with my students.
Reluctantly at the end of the year I transferred to another school. But at the end of the year, the married couple rule was revoked. I returned to teach another ten years with supportive colleagues and students I cherished. Best of all I had the daily joy of being around my true love, “Mr. Bell.”
Mr. Bell and I were happily married for thirty years until his death in 2002. Our two adult children live in Virginia and Florida.
Lucy Bell is a retired teacher and writing consultant. Her thirty-five year teaching career included creating FIRSTWRITE, a program that helped hundreds of teachers teach first graders creative writing, even before they could spell. She is currently a featured contributor for the online magazine US Represented and the literary journal Almagre Review. Molly and the Cat who Stole Her Tongue is her first children’s novel.