Challenges in an Interracial/Cross-Cultural Marriage

Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

As a white college student in the 1960s, I married my anthropology professor, who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. In addition to racial issues, there was the cultural challenge of which country you live in – his or mine.  The president of Liberia, William R. Tolbert, Jr., had built a road to his remote village and missionaries were living there. We wanted to help his people and were planning to move there when a crisis (Liberia’s coup of 1980) occurred that ended our dream. Below is an excerpt from our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.

In my words:

The wall phone in the kitchen rang at 2:00 a.m. Ben staggered awake to answer it. I heard, Beyond-Myself“Hello,” followed by silence. He plodded back to the bedroom and stood there, his eyes staring and vacant in shock. In a defeated voice, he announced, “President Tolbert’s been assassinated.”

I was stunned by the news—and simultaneously relieved, as I instantly realized we weren’t
moving to Liberia after all. I stared as the man I loved appeared devastated, forlorn like a lost child. He plodded to bed, and we lay there together in the silence for a few moments, trying to absorb the impact

Anita & Ben with Tolbert in the presidential officeI reached over to hold his hand and said, “Who called you?”

“I’m not sure. I think the call was from London. Samuel Doe, one of Tolbert’s security guards from the Krahn tribe, shot him and appears to be in charge.”

Liberia’s Coup of 1980

Overnight, Liberia descended into chaos. We were desperate to learn what was happening to our friends and relatives, but accessing fast and accurate news about Liberia’s coup of 1980 on American TV was almost impossible. Much of it was horrible; wild rumors abounded. President Tolbert had been shot in the head. Tribal soldiers shaved Victoria Tolbert’s head and put her in a jail cell, naked. Tolbert’s son, A. B., was beheaded. In the stockade, soldiers stripped government officials, making them jump, like puppets, at gunpoint.Liberia's Coup of 1980 - Samuel Doe (one of President Tolbert’s security guards)

Ten days later, another call in the middle of the night revealed that Cecil Dennis, Ben’s cousin who was minister of state, had been shot by a firing squad on the beach along with other government officials. His sister, Angie’s, former husband, Richard Henries, the speaker of the house, collapsed from a heart attack before they shot him. Uncle C. C. was chained to the back of a pickup and dragged to his death.

News about Liberia’s coup of 1980 trickled in. An Associated Press report titled “Thirteen Liberian Ex-Officials Killed by Firing Squad,” said, “The executions may have been the opening round of a bloody purge of the old regime by the military men, led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, who toppled the government April 12th and killed President Tolbert … Doe, twenty-eight, is the son of an impoverished farmer from the small Krahn tribe … A red and white banner draped on a building in Monrovia reads, ‘Our eyes are open: the time of the people has come.’”

A Great Pain & Forced Move

Ben’s nephew, Harry, working at the foreign ministry in Monrovia, wrote us: “Thomas is still in detention at the Barclay Training Center. Today he faced the military tribunal for corruption, misuse of public office, and abuse of the people’s human rights … We now await the verdict.” Thomas was eventually released. The other good news was that the missionaries in Vahun were okay.

Anita cookingFrom that first phone call, Ben became a robot going through the motions; his personal dreams and those for Liberia had been smashed to smithereens. In addition, he was mourning the death of his friend, President Tolbert. Day after day, he sat in the living room with his short-wave radio on his lap, trying to tune in World News on the BBC. He said nothing about Liberia. His pain too great.

We no longer needed to sell our house and contacted the couple through their black realtor. He told us, “A purchase agreement is a legal contract. They’ll sue you in excess of ten thousand dollars if you don’t sell them your house. They really want it.”

We were appalled. How could they be so hardhearted? We weren’t moving to Liberia, but we would be moving after all.

To learn the whole story including the crises of our lives, read Beyond Myself.