Curious History

Curious History

Intriguing Inter-Racial Marriages

Frederick Douglass and Helen Pitts

Frederick Douglass, born as a slave, escaped slavery in 1832. He married Anna Murray, a ‘free colored’ African American, in a small wedding reception and had five children. After her death, he met Helen Pitts and married her much against the wishes of his children. Their marriage was subjected to scorn by both the whites and the blacks. Helen was a white abolitionist and suffragist. Douglass believed that an inter-racial marriage could bring unity in America. He had once said, ‘My first wife was the color of my mother and the second, the color of my father.’

Joseph P. Laroche and Juliette Lafargue

At the age of 15, Joseph Philippe Laroche left Haiti and went to France to study engineering. Here he met his future wife Juliette Lafargue, whom he married after graduation. They had two daughters. Because of racial discrimination, Joseph could not get a high-paying job in France. Due to medical reasons, they decided to shift to Haiti in 1913. However, Juliette discovered that she was expecting and before it became too advanced, they chose to leave for Haiti. His mother bought a steamship ticket on La France, but due to a strict policy regarding children, made them transfer their ticket to Titanic’s second class. Racial discrimination was rampant on the ship, especially among the crew members. After Titanic struck an iceberg, Joseph put money and jewelry into the coat pocket and took his wife and children to the lifeboat. He put the coat around his wife and told her that he would take another boat. He did not survive. Juliette later gave birth to a son, Joseph Laroche.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Jessie Walmisley

WeddingsSamuel Coleridge-Taylor was one of the most celebrated composers of the late 19th century. Raised in Croydon, a London suburb, he was a mulatto child. At 23, he produced a musical called Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. The publishers paid him close to £16 for the composition whereas the company made a fortune out of it. Samuel and Jessie Walmisley, a pianist, were classmate. Jessie’s family was against the alliance and tried to prevent it in every possible manner. Samuel and his family were subjected to insulting comments about their skin color. They finally married in 1899. He was just 37 years old when he died of pneumonia. Many turned out to attend his funeral, and a memorial concert was organized to raise money for his widow and two daughters.

Jack Johnson and his wives

Jack Johnson was the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion. He had held the title from 1908 to 1915. Apart from being a rich athlete, he performed for theater companies between fights, singing, dancing and acting. Jack was married three times, and since all his wives were whites, it led to controversies. He married a socialite and divorcee, Etta Terry Duryea in 1911 after meeting her at a car rally. But it was filled with controversy as Jack was abusive towards his wife. Etta suffered acute depression and with just eight months into their marriage, she committed suicide by shooting herself. Within three months, he met his second wife Lucille Cameron, an 18-year-old prostitute, which enraged the public. In 1913, Jack was convicted of transporting women across the state lines. The couple lived in exile for the next seven years and surrendered in 1920. He served eight months in prison and four years later, Cameron filed for divorce. In 1925, he married Irene Pineau after meeting her at a rally race. She remained married to him till 1946, when Johnson died in a car accident.

George Schuyler and Josephine Cogdell

George Schuyler was a journalist, author and editor and Josephine Cogdell, an actress, model and a dancer. She was fascinated by new ideas making its way into politics, even though she came from a wealthy family. She went to New York to meet him. They later wrote letters to each other expressing their love at first sight. When she got married in 1928, she proclaimed herself as ‘colored’ to avoid crossing the dangers associated with racial discrimination. They believed that an inter-racial marriage could help solve many problems that prevailed in the US at that time. He believed that American blacks could succeed only if they worked together with the whites. The couple had one daughter named Philippa, who later went on to become a child prodigy. She was four when she started composing classical music.

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