Erasing the Line

by Anna G. Cristofaro
Rhode Island

About 15 years ago, my cousin Marie got married. Harry is a wonderful African-American man from a huge — and huge-hearted — Southern family.

Marie’s mom and dad are my godparents. Lorraine and Arthur were typical examples of their generation. They were raised to believe that black people are “different from us”. So when their daughter, who was over 40 years old at the time, announced that she was marrying a black man, they were mortified.

I remember sitting in my godmother’s kitchen as she tearfully spoke of how Marie was breaking their hearts with this marriage. She was sure my godfather wouldn’t be able to bear the disgrace of his daughter giving herself up to a black man.

I was dumbstruck. I had already met Harry and some of his siblings. I knew them to be warm, funny, kind, generous people. I saw that my cousin was happy for the first time in a long time. It was so painful to see her family torn apart by blind bigotry and selfishness.

Marie’s parents refused to come to the wedding. For the first few years of their marriage, my godfather would not talk to Marie and certainly not to Harry. Harry wasn’t welcome in my godparents’ home. Nothing could change their minds — at least, not then.

Through all this, Harry was always an example of compassion. He told Marie she was not to give up on her Mom and Dad, that she should continue to visit and show them respect. If they happened to run into Arthur and Lorraine at a family function, Harry was always cheerful and courteous to his in-laws. His thinking was that they just couldn’t help themselves — they were a product of their “Old Country” upbringing and generational bias.

I don’t know that there was any single defining event that changed the hearts of Arthur and Lorraine. I think finally it all came down to patience and grace. It took time, but eventually, the color line was erased and my godparents simply saw Harry as the son they never had.

In the end, Marie’s parents couldn’t help falling in love with Harry. Love and respect replaced suspicion and fear. There came a time when my godfather loved nothing better than to visit Marie and Harry at their log cabin home in the mountains.

When my godfather died a few years ago, it was Harry who honored us with a Bible reading at Arthur’s funeral service. Harry and Marie continue providing my godmother (now 80) with plenty of TLC as she battles Alzheimer’s disease.

Harry showed us that love isn’t just blind. It’s color-blind, too.

Originally published as HeroicStories #638 on Nov 4, 2005

4 thoughts on “Erasing the Line”

  1. First of all I would like to say God Bless you Harry for the love you showed Marie’s parents and for never giving up hope or faith in them for coming around. My sister Becky married an African-American man from a large family in Cleveland, OH 25 years ago. They are still married to this day and have five wonderful children. Troy was not exactly loved by all in our family at the beginning. But he is a great man who means a lot to my sister and all of us close to him in the family. It takes real guts and love for a person to not let people get you down. May God Bless you and your family for years to come for the hero’s that you are. Thanks for your story of strength.

    • I echo your sentiments and only want to add my first reaction to this. Harry’s family obviously held a very high standard for themselves with an enduring love and generosity to all. What a wonderful example.

  2. Racism and bigotry is something that is learned; it is not intrinsic to a child’s thinking. Children will happily play and make friends with any other child of any other color. It is us adults that keep racism and bigotry alive. For those of us who recognize it for what its worth, hateful, cruel and coming from a place of fear, we owe it to others, wherever possible, to try and re-educate them, thus picking off one person at a time. This story is a wonderful example of the power of love and forgiveness which served to overcome what Marie and Harry had to endure, before Marie’s family were able to have a change of mind and heart.

  3. Just goes to show that what Brother John Lewis taught us many years ago – love always prevails. It may take years but love always prevails. I’m glad Marie’s parents were able to overcome their hateful thinking and embrace their daughter’s family.


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